Saturday, August 31, 2013

Monet's Giverny Garden and Nightfall along the Seine

The original plan for today was to take an 8:00 am train to Vernon and visit the Monet Garden in Giverny. I slept a little longer than usual and when I finally woke, didn't feel like racing to the station. We had a leisurely breakfast instead and planned to take the second express train around 10:00 am. This would mean we would have to skip the pre-booked lunch I had planned at a restaurant near Giverny. However, I would rather enjoy the day and not have to rush.

We went downstairs around 8:30 am and the breakfast tables were all nicely set with little baskets of croissants, tea cups and jams. I noticed the little garden in the rear which I missed yesterday.

Les Plumes Hotel Paris
Breakfast is not included in our room rate but at only 7€ extra per person its a no-brainer. There was a good variety of both hot and cold items to choose from. The coffee machine was versatile and could make many different kinds of coffee and even hot chocolate.

Advanced Coffee machine
The breakfast setup was quite nice. There was fresh fruit, cured meats, yogurt, cheese and also hot items on the other side.

Yogurt and Juice
My mother was pleased with the variety of yogurt and juices.

Eggs, sausage and crepes
I took a few different items as I knew we would not be eating again until past lunch time.

My Breakfast
My preferred breakfast is European style with cheese, fruit and at times a little meat so this was perfect. I also had Green Tea. With breakfast service about over, the staff were soon clearing the empty tables. You can see the man working in the back looking quite spiffy in his top hat.

It was now time to walk to Saint Lazare station to catch our train. Our express train to Vernon will depart at 10:20 am and only takes 45 minutes. The express runs about 4 times per day. The slower train takes over 2 hours so the fast train is worth the wait.

I studied the Google map last night and had no fear of getting lost this time. It is basically a straight shot from our hotel to the station and should take no more than 15 minutes to get there.

My mother was still contemplating taking a taxi but the hotel staff reconfirmed it was an easy stroll. It was pleasant outside, a little overcast with temps in the high 60's and it was great to stretch our legs. About 8 minutes into our walk we noticed 4 - 5 young men behind us. Mother was concerned fearing they were some sort of hoodlums. I thought she was being silly as they looked harmless. We crossed the street to the opposite side just to play it safe. Otherwise the walk was uneventful.

We passed this beautiful building but there was no sign. It would be nice to know its significance.

It must be important as they are working on it and have scaffolding in front. There was a gate with initials that may indicate a clue.

It was just about another 5 minutes from here to Saint Lazare station which we discovered was also undergoing renovation. This morning we saw the garbage trucks and the city has appeared quite tidy during this trip. I don't remember Paris ever looking this clean before.

Gare Saint Lazare
While staying in the 9th Arrondissement may have some drawbacks, it is very convenient for 2 of the 3 major train stations: Gare du Nord and Gare Saint Lazare. Gare du Lyon is a bit further away.

As has been our usual practice, we were early again but we needed the extra time to purchase our train tickets. There were kiosks but we decided to wait in the main ticket line as we were not sure what time to return and needed to go over the options. The line was long but they had 4 people working the ticket area. Our turn came and we decided the train around 1:00 pm was too early so chose the next one at 2:53 pm. The cost was 13.90€ each way  per person.

Our train tickets from Paris to Vernon and back
Tickets in hand, we stood staring aimlessly at the overhead board for the track to post.

Our train will terminate in Rouen so we kept our eyes peeled for that destination on the board. I noticed the train to Deauville was leaving at around the same time and for a brief moment wished we were going there instead.

Waiting for the track to post
However, as much as we enjoyed our visit to Deauville and Honfleur in 2012, we have never seen the Monet Garden and it seems like the better option for spending a few hours in Normandy.

Apparently the train to Rouen was a popular choice for as soon as the track posted it was a mad dash and it felt like we were competing on the "Amazing Race". Mother being far from spry, we were among the last to board and almost didn't get seats. Hmm, standing? That was not going to work. The train has two levels and we...okay I, made the mistake of going up top where there were no seats. Back down on the lower level we found a couple seats near one of the doors just as the train was pulling away. Phew!

This seat was completely full when we left
The weather forecast for Giverny is overcast skies but no rain. It probably was not the nicest day to tour a large garden but hopefully the sun will make an appearance. I enjoyed looking at the countryside as we headed west. Time passed quickly and it seemed in no time we arrived in Vernon.

Upon arrival we were directed to board one of the buses for the short ride to Giverny. The cost of the bus is 4€ per person each way. There were 4 buses, so plenty of room for everyone.

Looking around it appeared that most of the people on the bus were young women. There were a few men but not too many.

On the bus to Giverny
The ride to the garden was about 10 minutes. We had some traffic and were stopped for a bit. We crossed the bridge over the river Seine. The windows on the bus are tinted so it looks much darker outside.

We were now in Giverny and it was very green!

I do prefer the country to the city so anytime I have the opportunity I will gladly head out of town.

We pulled up to the drop off point which was at the end of a large parking lot. It was then about a 15 minute walk to the ticket office. We passed this pretty restaurant on the way. I was thinking we should stop here for lunch on the way back.

The walk was very nice along a level path. We looked at the sign posted with a map to get our bearings. The area is much larger than I realized. I thought the only thing here would be the garden. However, there are small galleries, various restaurants and even a few guest houses.

Map of Monet's Giverny Garden
We continued down the path to reach the ticket office.

Path to Monet Garden Ticket office
Some of the buildings were painted in pretty colors with of course delightful flower boxes below the windows.

I read online about the possible lines for tickets so purchased ours online in advance from Digiticks. The website was easy to use and I printed them out to take with us. Each ticket was 9.50€ and you can use the tickets for up to one year from date of purchase.

Monet Garden E-Ticket
When we arrived at the ticket entrance I was very happy I already had tickets as there was a long line. We entered from the group entrance for pre-purchased tickets where they scanned the bar code. We then were lead not to the garden, but surprise...directly into the gift shop!

Monet Garden Gift Shop
While the gift shop is usually at the end of most attractions it made sense here. Looking at the postcards and posters I got a sense of what we would see. They also had some jewelry and higher end objects. I purchased 5 postcards at 1€ each. They don't allow photos inside Monet's home so I wanted something to remember it by. I should have also looked for a book on botany describing the variety of flowers planted here. I had a very hard time identifying anything during our visit and also later when reviewing my photos.

We then made our way out the back to head to the Garden. The Monet Garden is probably most famous for its large pond with the pretty water lilies. However, the areas on the way there and near the house are very beautiful in their own right. The entire landscape was breathtaking.

The round Globe Thistles above were a beautiful periwinkle blue. Looking around I wish I knew the names of all the other flowers. I loved the composition of all the various element and it really piqued my interest.

At first glance it looked like just a bunch of flowers, flowers and more flowers. But closer examination revealed the artistic planning involved. It definitely requires a lot of work.

The autumn flowers at Giverny include Anemone, Dahlias, Asters, Passiflores Grimpants, Climbing and Stem Roses, Rudbeckias, Clematis, Marigold, Aconites, Carnations, Tansy, Pelargoniums, Ipomee, Hypericums, Epilobes, Begonia and many other varieties that we enjoyed discovering.  I would love to learn how to design even a small area like this one. Giverny is located in hardiness zone 8 which is the same zone as Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Madrid. By comparison, most of England and Wales is in hardiness zone 9.

Claude Monet

Claude Monet was born in 1840 in the 9th arrondissement of Paris. His real name was Oscar-Claude and his parents actually called him Oscar. His family moved to Le Harve and his mother died when young Claude was only 17. While living in Paris, Monet was trained as a painter. However, Instead of focusing on copying old masters as was common practice then, Monet desired to paint what he saw. In developing this style he among a handful of others founded what became known as French Impressionism.

In 1883 after ten years of living at Giverny, Monet began transforming part of his land and pond into an Asian inspired water garden. In the 1880's the European fascination with all things Japanese was referred to as Japonisme. Monet was a great admirer of nature's central influence in Japanese culture. He was also very adept at incorporating these themes into his landscapes.

Monet on Giverny Bridge 1922
Monet was granted government approval to expand his pond and then encircled it with various flowers, trees and bushes. The Japanese style wooden bridge was added in 1895. The bridge in the photo above is much higher than the bridge that replaced it in 1970 when it was rebuilt. Monet had an obsessive focus of repainting the pond and water lilies over and over again for the next 25 years. He eventually created over 250 works based exclusively on his water lilies. He was certainly persistent!

 "It took me a long time to understand my water lilies…I grew them without thinking of painting them…And then, all of a sudden, I had the revelation of the enchantment of my pond. I took up my palette".
Claude Monet 1924

Claude Monet Home Giverny
Claude Monet's home was just beyond this thicket and most people see the ponds first and then the house last. I was probably overdoing it with taking so many photos. Everywhere I looked though there was another fabulous arrangement or border. I love purple and found this area quite captivating.

As one would expect the flowers are arranged in groups by color. We next entered a different section with gorgeous large crimson blossoms accented by white azaleas.

Some of the areas were roped off. It was wonderful to glance down the gravel paths at the archways and arbors. It looked so natural and there were many of these rows.

This is a view looking back at the house from further into the garden.

The style of the garden is very natural. It probably requires more talent and skill to design a garden this way than to have it manicured. I loved the contrast of the raspberry colored Globe Amaranth with the sunflowers across.

It was a bit of a walk to get to the pond area but truly enjoyable.  We finally made it to the Water Garden area where you had to go down an underground passageway to reach the other side.

Passageway to the Water Garden
Once across we reached the beginning of the water features. The sight of the tall bamboo grove made us feel like were in Asia and provided an exotic feel to the garden.

The meandering stream was very peaceful as we walked along the bridge toward the lily ponds.

Bamboo Grove
You could tell we were getting close as there were a few lily pads in the water and the giant willows were becoming more abundant.

In this area they had a couple little wooden boats to make it plausible that monsieur Monet was shortly due to return.

After the underground passageway, passing the bamboo, and then a little stream...we were finally there! Although were were expecting it, the first sight of the Japanese Bridge over the pond was more amazing than I imagined. It looked very similar to what I remembered seeing in photos over 20 years ago.

First glance at the Japanese Bridge
Below is how the bridge looks in a professional photograph on the postcard I purchased. I must say I have my work cut out for me to capture a photo like this one.

Postcard of Japanese Bridge at Monet Garden
It was astounding that one man devoted his later life to cultivating this area. Claude Monet did have the help of some experienced gardeners but planned the design himself. It reminds me how multi-talented the French are in many areas including food, wine, literature and architecture. As much as Victor Hugo was not only a great writer and a skilled interior designer, it appears Claude Monet was more than a brilliant painter but also a skilled horticulturalist. Did Edith Piaf have a secret skill as a  "dog whisperer" and Coco Chanel as a chef? One does begin to wonder!

Growing up I was fascinated by Monet's creation of the Japanese bridge and his garden. We lived up on a hill 300 feet from the road with lush foliage a small pond down below. I spent a lot time wishing we could build a small Japanese bridge similar to this one and add some amazing landscaping. Not being overly ambitious and having no skill in this area it seemed an impossible task. In the end, the pond eventfully dried up, skunk grass, large ferns and moss predominated. The area remained "natural" in comparison to our neighbors with perfect hedges and meticulous landscaping. Seeing the Monet garden in person brought back some nice memories and I appreciated the "wildness" and seeing what is possible when you put your mind to it.

Monet Lily Pond
While there were other tourists the area didn't feel overrun. It was already close to noon time and I actually expected to see many more people. Today is August 31st and the anniversary of Princess Diana's death. My mother spotted signs in Paris with Diana's photo but I missed them. I have been thinking about her too while enjoying our visit to the garden.

It is very peaceful here and easy to get caught up in one's thoughts. It was a challenge to get a photo of the bridge without anyone on it though. I almost succeeded.

Monet Japanese Bridge beyond the willows
Monet was fascinated by the effect of light and reflections on the pond in his landscapes. Seeing the garden on an overcast day was not optimal but the sun delighted us sporadically through the cloud cover. I can only imagine what the reflections look like on a bright sunny day.

Great reflections on the pond
I loved this area with the lush flowers in the background and the reflections on the pond. The water lilies are a summer flowers and require warmth and sunshine. We are lucky to see them this late in August.

In just a few weeks with cooler temperatures this area may look quite different.

One of my favorite areas
We very much enjoyed walking around the pond.

The red brambles were a nice contrast to the colorful flowers.

I don't know what this flower is. Perhaps it is a Tansy?

The Monet Garden surpassed our expectations and I am very glad we came. It was now time to turn around and head back to the house. We saw very few people until we reached the passageway.

We actually viewed some cows in a field with the lush hills in the background. It is amazing you can experience this garden and the wonderful countryside just 45 minutes via express train from Paris!

I didn't notice until on the way back that the passageway was donated by Walter Annenberg.

As we went up I took a photo of the people headed down. Again, lots more women than men.

It looks like there be many more visitors in the afternoon. On the way back to the house we passed this row of bright orange blossoms. I looked online and these may be a mixture of Asclepias and Tithonia.

I still prefer purple though. I know, I sound like a broken record but I wish they had signs so I knew the names of the flowers.

The combinations below was just incredible! I think the term "ordered randomness" might accurately describe it!

The only sign visible was the one for the direction to the water garden.

Gorgeous Dahlias!
These were probably some of my favorites flowers of the day.

Giverny Dahlia
We were now back at the house which I toured while my mother remained behind. It is a short tour as there are only a handful of rooms to see on the ground floor and second story.

The front of the house is carpeted with Pelagoniums, which are more commonly known as geraniums and are the most popular summer flower in France.

The house looks very large from the outside but they only allow you to see a small portion of it. As no photos are allowed inside I relied on the postcards I purchased to show the interior. One of the first rooms on view was the Salon.

Postcard of Salon at Claude Monet house Giverny
Upstairs we viewed one of the bedrooms. The room was very elegant and nicely appointed.

Before leaving was the kitchen area. The tiles were amazing! The stove was pretty neat too!

Monet Kitchen Giverny
I took a photo from the house looking out the window to the grounds below.

The house was interesting but not worth spending more than 10 minutes. I popped back outside and met up with my mother who was relaxing on one of the benches. It was now past lunch time and our stomachs were rumbling. I was a little confused which way to get to the restaurants. I think we turned right and walked toward some buildings in the distance. This wasn't where I intended to go but we came upon a Creperie which was also part of a hotel. It looked nice and I was thrilled we could taste some galettes during our brief Normandy visit.

Creperie and Hotel
They had a nice covered outside terrace which was a delightful break in the mid-afternoon.

We asked to be seated and were directed to a lovely table facing the grounds. Nearby was a middle aged Chinese couple who had not ordered yet. We needed to keep track of the time so as not to miss our train back to Paris. We ordered quickly and before the Chinese couple as they required a bit more explanation.

Understandably it must be hard when English is not your first language, but the way the Chinese man ordered his meal was very funny. He sounded robotic as he pronounced each and every syllable carefully with a pause between the words except for the last two and said, "!". He had an exclamation at the end as if he was pleased to successfully complete the sentence. Hope he was not expecting Peking Duck. I don't know why I found it so amusing. I too struggle when trying to speak a French or Spanish but I hope it sounds better!.

We enjoyed the view of the trees and meadow while waiting for our meal to arrive.

It did not take long to be served. Both of our galettes were super! Mother had the Apple and ham galette.

I ordered the ham, potato and sour cream. They were huge and just as delicious or perhaps better than the ones we had in Bayeux a year ago. We finished every bite!

We both did a great job on our crepes and then I took the rock inside with our table number (505) to pay. The staff were so nice. They seemed very appreciative of our visit.

Sadly it was now time to walk back to the bus so we could return to Vernon for our train. I wish we could have stayed longer as there were some interesting galleries we missed along the way.

This exhibition looked quite nice. Wish we had the time.

We reached the buses and were soon heading back to Vernon.

On the bus heading to Vernon
Vernon gets a lot of traffic due to its location near Giverny but I don't think many tourists linger here.

The Vernon station is nice and modern with plenty of outside seating to wait for the train.

Vernon Train Station
Since we already had our ticket we went to the track and waited with everyone else.

I noticed this adorable little girl with her father. She had the most beautiful blue eyes. She was just the cutest kid I have ever seen! I wanted take a photo of her but didn't want to creep anyone out so took it when she wasn't looking. It is a shame because you cannot see her enchanting blue eyes.

A little princess
The train soon arrived and again it was very crowded. I spotted a seat for my mother and then I found one for myself close by. The guy I was sitting next to was in his late 20's and had a huge laptop on which he was watching a Bradley Cooper movie.

We didn't have an exact plan on what to do when we returned to Paris. I thought we should take a walk around one of the lovely neighborhoods. My mother said she wanted to see some antique shops she remembered from a prior visit located near the Louvre. That sounded like the better option. Once we reached the train station we took a taxi there.

On the way we passed some iconic buildings including the Musee d'Orsay where paintings of Monet Water Lily collection reside.

Musee d'Orsay
We arrived at the Louvre where we have not been in a long time. I took a few photos of the area before heading to our destination. The Louvre buildings are as gorgeous as ever.

This is a very popular area. It would have been nicer to view the the famous I.M Pei glass pyramid among the Louvre buildings lit at night.

I don't remember all the steel barricades from our prior Paris visits but it has been a while since we have been at the Louvre. When we toured the museums for the first time in 1981 I had a swollen eye from a bug bite and looked at everything with one eye halfway shut. The paintings were still beautiful! Back then at the Jeu du Palme you could walk right up to the Mona Lisa which is now behind a sheet of glass and is roped off.

Pictured below we also could see the Arc de Triomphe du Carroussel in the distance. This smaller monument was built as the same as the more famous and much larger one in the 16th Arrondissement.

Rain looked imminent at times but luckily it stayed dry.

Leaving the Louvre
We walked from here to the Palais Royal and the adjacent Louvre des Antiquaires. I have never visited this building before. I was amazed my mother remembered it from so many years ago.  The building is home to over 75 small boutique-style antique shops.

Most of the shops are quite expensive and they have an exquisite assortment of items.

The building is designed around a central atrium with a large skylight. There are 3 floors but we only visited two of them.

The style of the building is very elegant with large chandeliers.

All the shops have large floor to ceiling windows displaying their merchandise.

This store sold a great assortment of fabulous looking canes and walking sticks.

This shop was more opulent and had a gorgeous clock in the window.

We really enjoyed the window shopping here as it was so easy to see everything without having to go inside any of the shops.

I feel in love with this necklace! Falize was a Paris jeweler in 1830's. Christie's recently sold one his pieces for $30,000 USD. I loved the purple amethyst and the gold was very good quality. At least I have a photo to remember it by.

My mother made a "happy stop" while I stood admiring the necklace. While I waited a man came by to tell me they were closing many of the shops to remove asbestos from the building. Sounds like a big undertaking.

We then made our way downstairs. They have lots of signs in case you forget where you are!

Although we didn't make any purchases I found the Louvre des Antiquaires very interesting. We still had more than an hour until dinner time and decided to take a stroll. As we were on the corner of the the Rue Saint Honore we proceeded down this vibrant street with its fashionable stores.

Rue Saint Honore

Rue Saint Honore
We noticed the Velib bikes parked in front of Kiehls. As my mother doesn't like the Metro and if she was willing, that would have been a nice option from all the taxis we have been taking.

The outfits in this shop (especially the one in front) reminded me of my aunt who passed away 3 years ago. She was very stylish!

The wide Paris boulevards are wonderful for walking.

At the corner of the Hotel Vendome and a Chopard store.

As if we have not seen enough flowers today, we came upon the lovely florist Dani Roses.

Nearby was the new Mandarin Oriental hotel which is located in a former office building. We were invited by the doorman to come inside for a closer look.

Mandarin Oriental Hotel
With its open atrium design it reminded me of a Hyatt Hotel. A little further down was Chanel but mother was more interested in the pharmacy next door. In the window was a display of boar bristle hair brushes. We went inside and after closer examination mother purchased a new hair brush. At least we bought something today!

We continued to enjoy our walk and the view.

The Longchamp display was creative.

We were now near the end of the street and our walk was almost over. We were really tired too!

Although it is quite famous, I have never actually been to Maxim's. The restaurant was founded in 1893. In the 1970's Brigitte Bardot caused a stir when she entered the establishment barefoot!

At the corner we found a taxi to make our way to our designated dining destination. Yesterday I had our hotel re-confirm our dinner reservation as was required. We drove through the Place de la Concorde and then it was just a short distance to the restaurant.

Place de la Concorde
Fountain Place de la Concorde
Before our trip I had a hard time narrowing down where we should eat on our last night in Paris. After tons of research and discovering the place I wanted to go (Yamtcha) was closed until mid September, I narrowed it down to just a couple places. It was around this time that I heard about my cousin Zach's visit to L' Atelier du Joel Robuchon in Tokyo. He said it was expensive but the food was great. I emailed my request for a coveted reservation at the original restaurant in Paris and was successful.  Having never eaten at any of Joel Robuchon's restaurants before I wasn't sure what to expect.

Joel Robuchon

Joel Robuchon is a French Chef who came to prominence in the 1980's with several successful restaurants in France and a couple of TV cooking shows to boot. He famously retired at the age of 50. It was a brief rest. After visiting Japan many times his interest in Japanese cooking techniques plus his exposure to Spanish tapas bars gave birth to a new venture. Ten years after his supposed retirement he opened his first Joel Robuchon restaurant in Paris and one in Tokyo soon after. He now has restaurants in Paris, Tokyo, Las Vegas, Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, Monaco and Taipei with a grand total of 25 Michelin stars, more than any other chef.

I was a bit clueless of the type of food he serves but looked at one of the menus online. It seemed like we would enjoy it. There are now two L'Atelier du Joel Robuchon restaurants in Paris, the original in St. Germain des Pres and the newer one at the top of the Champs Elysees.

The restaurant is attached to the Hotel Royal. The neighborhood around St. Germain des Pres is lovely and I thought as we were 20 minutes early we should take a little walk before our meal.  Rue du Bac is a very attractive little street.

Rue du Bac
We didn't venture too far and soon returned to the restaurant. The steel doors to the restaurant look very austere and resemble a vault. You can access the hotel from the street and also from the hotel side. We had brought clothing with us to change into for dinner. At the hotel we found the restroom at the bottom of the stairwell and made our wardrobe change. Presto! We now look presentable.  We went back outside and joined our fellow patrons who were all smartly attired.

Steel doors Joel Robuchon
The other dinner guests started to congregate outside until the doors opened. While we were waiting a couple ladies asked me about eating here and I explained the reservation process. I also pointed to the menu posted outside. They have an a la carte menu and a Menu Decourverte for 169€ . The special menu includes 9 courses.

Everyone was waiting for the doors to open at 6:30 pm. This is the only time they take dinner reservations.

Waiting for Joel Robuchon to open for dinner
The door parted and we were welcomed inside and individually directed to our seats. The concept is very interesting with a "U" shaped bar area that seats 40 people facing an open kitchen. We were directed to the area on the left side with a good view of the food preparation. The Japanese influence is evident with the black plates and bright red water goblets. Some people think the black and red color theme is a bit dated but I enjoyed it.

Nice place setting
When I looked at the menu online they didn't have prices but I found a sample menu on another site. The prices didn't seem intimidating. However, looking at the menus posted outside before we were seated I started to wonder how much this was going to cost. The prices seemed to be on par with La Tour d'Argent, Les Ambassadeurs other fancy options I had shied away from during our Paris stay.

We reviewed the a la carte menu and tried to figure out what to order.

Left side of a la carte menu
The a la carte menu was very expensive but the set menu with the 9 courses seemed exorbitant. Perplexed and unwilling to spend 169€ each, we opted for the a la carte. In hindsight we should have bitten the bullet and done the set menu. It would have been less stressful and a much better experience.

Right side of a la carte menu
I loved the concept of the restaurant with the bar area and small plate option. We enjoyed seeing the creative presentation of the food too.

Being a newbie, I was not sure how to proceed with ordering and the waitstaff were not being that helpful. I think we made a fatal mistake when my mother asked if they had a glass of wine less expensive than the one on the menu for 23€ . After that fiasco we were ignored for 15 minutes and couldn't place our food order either. We just sat there watching everyone else nibble away!

Other people were getting served near us and the service seemed to be working fine for them. They guy on my left was halfway done with his gazpacho soup before we even got a second glance from the waitstaff.

After speaking with the maitre d' we were promised better service by our waiter Mykial but I think they thought our frugality was a lost cause. I partially agree but they could still have treated us better.

We finally successfully ordered a few different dishes to share from the left side of the menu. We were told most people order 3 - 4 items per person from the left side and then 1 - 2 items from the right side. Really?!

L' Atelier du Joel Robuchon Paris
My mother did get served a less expensive glass of wine and I had Evian water. We thankfully had a bread basket to hold us over until our first items arrived. Since we were sharing I tried to find something big to split between us. The Stuffed Clams with Garlic and Violet seemed a good choice. They were just okay, nothing spectacular. They were also very small!

Stuffed Clams with Garlic and Violet
The next course was even smaller! We shared the Gyoza of which there were three dumplings in total. Fortunately we were not that hungry. At 33€, I expected to be blown away. While the dumplings were very light and flavorful I wasn't wanting for more. The sauce was very good though.

To say this was not turning out they way I had expected was an understatement. Others around us seemed to be having a good time with their small plates or a set menu. I was feeling rather impoverished. We discussed ordering a main dish from the right of the menu to share but the attitude of the waitstaff was irritating and a complete turnoff. We were very quickly losing our appetites.

Lobster Ravioli with truffles
Our next course, the lobster ravioli with truffle should have been a show stopper. I know I keep referring to the price, but at 39€ I expected to be wowed.  It comes as a pair and was served to us on separate plates. Again, nothing special.

Although our dining experience wasn't going well, our neighbors were more successful. The gentlemen to my left seemed to be having a religious experience from his pied du cochon to his steak and especially his mashed potatoes!

Pied du Cochon
His wife ordered a whole fish that looked fantastic.

Grilled Fish
This gentleman next to me was profusely complimenting the waitstaff about the food. Just when you think you have seen everything, tears came to his eyes as he applauded the taste of the mashed potato. Honestly it didn't look that special to me but if you can reduce a man to tears with this simple staple then so be it! Puzzled by his reaction to the puree potato, I looked online and apparently Robuchon earned his second Michelin star based solely on this dish! They use very cold water and salted butter to get just the right consistency. I was tempted to take my fork and plunk it down in his bowl when he wasn't looking but resisted!

Our guest to the right had the seared Foie Gras which also looked pretty good too. Though we soon learned that all was not perfect with those ordering the special 9 course menu. The waitstaff kept trying to introduce wine pairings with each dish. The people to our right kept having to decline this offer and you could tell they were getting annoyed by the pushy staff. The restaurant apparently likes to make a killing selling liquor.

Foie Gras
Instead of ordering a larger dish to share from the other side of the menu we decided to cut our loses and each order a dessert. This was actually a very good idea as the desserts were both very good and big too!

My mother had a sabayon with chocolate and coffee. She said it was delicious!

Sabayon of Chocolate and Coffee
My dessert was harder to figure out. It was supposed to be a meringue but I think it was mostly whipped cream. It did have a coffee flavor and was very good. It was called Parfum Islands!

Parfum des Iles
We concluded our "meal" if you can even call it that and asked for the check. One other couple across the way near the front of the restaurant was also having dessert but everyone else was still eating dinner. We did spot a special treat being served to a birthday guest at the end of our row. The waiters all sang Happy Birthday, in French of course.

Robuchon Birthday Guest
The check wasn't this crumpled when it was presented to us. For the quantity and quality of food we had it was expensive at 158€. Our meal at Frenchie last night was not only significantly tastier but was also a much better value.

It is doubtful I would ever go to another L' Atelier du Joel Robuchon again. That being said, we had a very limited sampling and cannot adequately evaluate the full menu. As I mentioned previously, had we done the set menu with the 9 courses we may have come away with a more favorable experience.

We bid adieu to Mykial and the rest of the surly waitstaff and went outside to get a taxi. Since we finished dinner in just over one hour, we still had time to take the boat tour along the Seine. I have not done this in over 20 years. As Paris is remarkable at night and we still had lots of energy it seemed like a great idea. It might brighten our spirits too.

We arrived by taxi at the perfect time to do this at dusk. The Bateaux Mouches is a very popular venue and I think our boat tour at 9:00 pm was perhaps the last one of the day before closing time.

The line seemed very long and snaked around but it moved quickly and we soon had tickets. We then  moved at a snails pace toward the boat. We climbed a short row of stairs and then found seats on the right side. Before we knew it we were off!

Dusk along the Seine
I know the boat trip along the Seine is very touristy but we thought it would be nice to see again. It might also help salvage our disappointing evening.

Our mood was brightened when we saw the sparkling Eiffel Tower with the lights twinkling on the hour. On the way back we would get a much closer look.

Some of the bright spotlights on the shore made seeing the buildings easier but taking photos was more challenging.

Dinner Boat cruise
We passed several dinner boats like this one during our trip.

They do a great job with lighting the buildings so you can see them from the river.

Notre Dame Cathedral
When we reached the Notre Dame Cathedral everyone was snapping away.

Paris architecture is truly amazing!

We passed under several bridges during our tour.

They had recorded commentary in French, English and Mandarin. I don't remember what this building is. It looks like a castle!

Musee d'Orsay at night
We next passed the Musee d'Orsay. I have lost track of how many times we have seen this building during our brief stay. It looks very elegant and is spectacular at night. It used to be a train station before being turned into a museum.

There were lots of smaller boats on the river too. This is near one of the more impressive bridges.

We were now back at the Eiffel Tower which is the highlight of the Seine boat trip.

I took lots of photos of the tower trying to get the perfect one!

Eiffel Tower with Chinese Tourists
More than half of the guests on our boat were Chinese. How things have changed from 20 years ago!

Being on the river may be the best place to get a photo of the Eiffel Tower at night.

You can see the lower restaurant quite well in this photo.

We had a great time on the Seine seeing the sights at night. The tour soon ended and we disembarked and tried to find a taxi. They had tons of buses to pickup the people leaving the boat and we walked in the same direction they were headed. Unfortunately this was not a good idea as there were no taxis there. Everything was closing down and we were not sure what the best place was to locate a taxi. We started to walk the 20 minutes back to the ticket office which was now closed when a taxi came by dropping someone off. A miracle! We ran over and he luckily was willing to take us back to our hotel. We certainly did a lot today!

Tomorrow we will spend most of the day in Paris until the late afternoon when we will take a train to Cologne, Germany. Our vacation is almost over!