Our journey into the past commences on Thursday, October 28. On a day that feels like ages ago, but was really just about a week and a half ago, my friend David promised us the best baklava ever, and a trip to the top of the Eiffel Tower. Only one of these promises was kept, but with good reason.
We first headed to La Bague de Kenza (136, Rue St. Honore, 75001 Paris; metro Louvre-Rivoli). In a sudden turn of events, I was really early to meet my friends and decided to explore the area a bit: I saw some really old looking buildings and took it upon myself to take a closer look. What I found was L’Eglise Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois, a beautiful church across from the Louvre that seems to have evaded the burdens of time and tourism, retaining an otherworldly atmosphere that at once pulls the visitor backwards through time. Further research revealed that it predates Notre Dame (my least favorite church in the city): it was built in the 7th century, five centuries before Notre Dame, and was built and re-built several times throughout the ages. Because of its endurance through history, it manifests different styles of architecture – including Roman, Gothic and Renaissance characteristics – and many of its stained glass windows managed to survive the French Revolution, unlike many other structures in Paris. L’Eglise Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois was also the church of French kings, which is pretty awesome.
There was something about this little church that I fell in love with: somewhat hidden by trees and in the shadow of the mairie building, it is there for those who want to discover it, but doesn’t ask for attention like Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur, or even Madeleine. Its unpretentious interior boasts fantastic stained glass without crying out for recognition, and no tourist exhibition explains its historical and cultural significance (Hello! The church of French kings!). The tranquility and emptiness that greeted me inside was further enhanced by the fact that there was no one outside or inside selling rosary beads, water, or tiny little Eiffel Tower keychains, and I could sit and enjoy its subtle yet profound beauty without being bothered by even a whisper. Ah. How refreshing. It was rewarding to learn of its endurance through the ages: it witnessed a revolution, several wars, and went through a few makeovers in its long life, and still stands as a quiet reminder of the tribulations of French history and the ability of structure and character to build, renew, strengthen, and flourish.
Enough of my sentimental mush, and onto the fun stuff. Baklava at La Bague de Kenza was up next, and for my high expectations I have to say I was a bit disappointed. Though the patisserie had an impressive selection of pastries and baked goods, and boasted a posh little sitting area and attentive, friendly service, the portions were small and hardly satisfying. A good piece of baklava will fill me up, and be absolutely dripping with honey. Though the modestly-sized pastry was rich in flavor, it was not nearly indulgent enough. On the plus side, the mint tea was out of this world, as was the mint-water that came in a picturesque bottle and made me wish that every water bottle had mint inside. At 10 Euro, I am glad I enjoyed this light-fare-lunch, but I wouldn’t head back without a good reason.
Though our plan was to climb the Eiffel Tower (a good way to work off all that baklava), upon realizing that the line was about 2 hours long we had a change of heart. Instead, we headed to the Musee national de la Marine (National Marine Museum), where Shaun and I geeked out over…boats, boats, and more boats. Yes, that’s right: Marina went to the Marine Museum. I was pleasantly surprised by this otherwise under-the-radar museum: the whole time I was walking through it, I felt myself slip slowly back into childhood, fascinated by big things that could go fast and weather the scariest of storms. The museum’s exhibition features not only boats but figureheads and stern decorations, which look all the more impressive up close and personal, as well as items from the daily lives of French sailors, instruments used on ships new and old, model ships, a submarine, and an impressive collection of nautical paintings that draw the viewer into an intriguing life of adventure on the high seas. The overall diversity, grandeur, and kid-friendly atmosphere of this museum made it both fun and interesting.
Without a doubt I would recommend the boats, but skip the baklava. The best way to eat it, anyway, is walking down the streets, letting your fingers get sticky from all the honey!