Nymphéas and steps, oh my!

This morning I wandered out into the outer arrondisements to visit the Musée Marmottan, a museum devoted primarily to Claude Monet. I’d been on the fence about going, because it’s way out of the way and kind of a pain to get to, but this morning I finally dug out my Métro map and figured out how to get out there. I’m so glad I made the effort. I got to sit in a room for nearly an hour surrounded by nearly 20 of Claude Monet’s water Lily paintings. It was so spectacular, I almost couldn’t make myself leave. Sitting among those pictures was incredibly peaceful and a feast for the eyes. Photos simply do not do any of those masterpieces justice. By the way, I stole the above photo from AllPosters.com since pictures were not allowed in the museum. So, if you’re a Monet lover, drop by their site and check out their huge collection of Monet posters and prints.
After my commune with Monet, I hopped back on the Metro and headed up to the Arc de Triumph. The Arc was built to commemorate Napoleon’s’ 1805 victory at the battle of Austerlitz. However, it took 20 years to complete and opened in 1926, partially due to Napoleon’s ouster from power. Napoleons funeral procession passed underneath it only four years later on the way his final resting place at the Invalides.

The Arc de Triumph has to be surrounded by one of the worlds biggest traffic circles. It’s so congested they don’t even all pedestrians to cross it. You have to go down a flight of stairs to the tunnels that go underneath the circle and then back up another flight of stairs in the center of the circle. Cars and motorcycles whiz around it like maniacs.

After purchasing my ticket, I climbed the 284 steps to the top observation deck. Let me tell you, that is a seriously long and strenuous climb. It’s straight up a never-ending spiral stair case. The Arc is 164 feet high (roughly 15 1/2 stories). You start off rather optimistically climbing at a good clip up the staircase, thinking this won’t be so bad. You’re keeping up with children less than half of your age without breaking a sweat. And thinking “Oh, look at this cool spiral staircase,” not grasping that this cool spiral staircase is about to become an object of torture. About a third of the way up, sweat breaks out across your brow and suddenly you’re wondering “why in the hell did I wear this scarf today?” Half way up, you suddenly realize your legs are trembling and you’re not in as good of shape as you thought you were in. Those kids have now passed you. Three quarters of the way up, you’re looking at the unfurling spiral above you thinking, “Is this *@#%! thing ever going to end? Am I going to die before I get to the top?” You stop to appreciate how far you’ve come (i.e catch your breath). Finally, you get to the top of the staircase to emerge into a room with iron benches. You realize you’re still not at the top and decide to take a break. After regaining the ability to breath, you stagger up the next flight of stairs, only to emerge into a museum. You suddenly realize that that another *@#$%! flight of stairs awaits you. Taking a deep breath, you finally push yourself up the final flight of stairs into the blinding sunlight.
What 15 stories of spiral staircases look like from the top!

Huffing, the cool air washes over you before you take a step up to the observation platform. The city sprawls before you. Ten avenues converge at the Arc, with the widest and longest being the famous Champs-Elysée, stretching from the Place de la Concorde to La Defense (another more modern Arc). In the picture below, you can see all the way to the Louvre and beyond.

The other end of the Champs Elysée.

After my climb back down from the top of the Arch de Triumph, I decided to do a little shopping. I headed down the Champs Elysée and risked life and limb to cross the wide Avenue to a post office to mail a handful of post cards. Then, I wandered into the Virgin Megastore to pick up a copy of the UK version of Switch and some Depeche Mode Maxi Cds that aren’t available in the US.

I ended my afternoon with stop at Angelina’s tea room on the Rue de Rivoli (near the Meurice Hotel). Angelina’s Chocolate Chaud (hot chocolate) is legendary. It is served in a small pitcher with a small bowl of very thick, sweet vanilla whipped cream. Every guide I’ve spoken to during this trip has said that this is a stop you have to make. I waited about 20 minutes in line for the table and it was worth the wait. The Chocolate Chaud is so thick you almost need a fork to stir it. Unlike the hot chocolate you get in the States, this is not sicky sweet; instead it’s made from dark chocolate that is slightly bitter (if I had to guess dark chocolate that is about 85%). Before drinking, you drop a large dollop of thick whipped cream into the steaming chocolate and wait for it to melt slightly.

Then, it’s time to drink this chocolate decadence. The texture is like chocolate velvet as it slides across your tongue. The slight bitterness is accented by the sweet fluffy cream. In between sips, you cleanse your palate with a bite of one of Angelina’s pastries (in my case a strawberry tarte) and a sip of water.

On a side note, the place was loaded with Parisian pregnant women. Apparently, les enfants-to-be love the hot chocolate too.

After dinner at my new favorite bistro around the corner of my hotel, I wandered down to the Quai de Megisserie to watch the Eiffel Tower sparkle like a Christmas tree. Every evening at Sunset, the Eiffel Tower sparkles for 10 minutes from the top of the hour until 10 minutes afterwards. It’s really quite the site; check out the video below:

Tomorrow, I brave the world of French cooking classes at the famous École Lênotre. Lênotre operates one of the top cooking schools. I’ll be in the amateur division and hopefully not causing an international incident by burning the place down due to my lack of comprehension of oral French.

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