Classy in Paris, feat. Opéra Garnier

February 15, 2012 at 6:06 pm Leave a comment

On Day 19 of the trip, my mom and I set out from our hotel in the Latin Quarter with a classy agenda of opera, fancy food, and sculpture. We were staying at Hotel Sully St-Germain, which I would normally recommend for its location, clean accommodations, and value, but they are currently closed for renovations and scheduled to reopen in August. This probably means that they will raise their prices and won’t be such a great value. Anyway, we needed breakfast first. The price for eating in the hotel was pretty steep and since we were in such a touristy area, we decided to try one the breakfast deal at a nearby café. It wasn’t anything fancy, but the pain au chocolat was good, as was the café au lait, so it was more than enough for us. I think that the café was called Les Délices du Fournil, and it was on rue des Carmes, just off of Boul. St-Germain, for interested tourists. Don’t go out of your way to eat there or anything, but if you are staying in the area, it’s a good option.

Anyway, once we were full of bread and coffee, we were off to our first stop, the Opéra Garnier. This is the old Paris opera house that is on Place d’Opéra, that was the inspiration for the setting of Phantom of the Opera, and that is pretty spectacular, even just from the exterior.

Opera Garnier, exterior

I had been wanting to go inside the Opéra Garnier since my first trip to Paris in 1996, long before I ever entered any opera house. I devised a plan to go inside on a trip in 2003, when I was an assistant chaperone on one of my mom’s student trips, but I arrived too late and it wasn’t open for visitors. So this time, I planned ahead and learned that tourists can visit for a small price (I think it was around 7 or 8 EUR). Tours are given in both French and English, but when we arrived, a tour had just left, and we had a full day, so we decided to wander around on our own instead of waiting for the next tour. I’m sure the tour would have been interesting, but we enjoyed our visit by just following the brochure.

Opera Garnier, interior

I mean, what’s not to enjoy?

One of the boxes was open, so we got to go inside (smaller than I expected!) and see the theatre, complete with its incredible ceiling by Marc Chagall.

Chagall ceiling, Opera Garnier

The opera building was designed in 1861 by Charles Garnier and was completed in 1874. The famous chandelier actually did fall in the 1890s, which was part of Leroux’s inspiration for The Phantom of the Opera. The Chagall painting was added in 1964. After the Paris Opera moved to its new, larger theatre near the Bastille, restorations began on the Opéra Garnier and they lasted through most of the ’90s and ’00s. I guess it’s good that I waited to finally see it, because I was able to enjoy the impressive building in all of its true glory. And without any scaffolding.

Opéra Garnier
This long gallery on the second floor was overwhelming. It’s one of those times when a photo cannot do the space justice. Walking into it felt like being engulfed in gold leaf.

Me at the opera
I even dressed up a bit for my day out in Paris, partly because I wanted to match the classiness of it, and partly because it was really hot and I don’t own shorts, so a dress was the best option.

Of course the exit from the opera goes right through the gift shop, so mom and I spent some time perusing their music collections. I helped her pick out some inexpensive, but good quality CDs, including a collection of Tchaikovsky ballet suites.

Next up was the Place de la Madeleine. Although it features a church, we actually didn’t go to see the church (shocking, for me), mostly because the church looks like this:

La Madeleine

It’s a Neo-Classical building that began its life as a monument that Napoleon commissioned for himself. I found out later that Madeleine was modeled after Maison Carrée in Nimes, in the south of France, which is an actual Roman temple. Mom and I have been there on a couple of trips. After Napoleon’s fall, I guess Paris wasn’t sure what to do with the monument, but they finally turned it into a church. I think the interior is prettier, but we didn’t go inside. We mainly went to the Place de la Madeleine for the food.

Two legendary gourmet grocery stores are located on the Place de la Madeleine:


and Hédiard.

I have recently developed an intense appreciation for fancy foods, and I have discovered that buying prepared foods at fancy grocery stores is the best way to enjoy fancy foods on a budget. So we went in both stores before making up our minds and selecting our lunches. Fauchon was flashy, with a bright white interior accented with pink and black. It felt like shopping for food in a fashion boutique. Hédiard seemed older and more traditional, with a big deli counter along one wall.

Hediard bag
So we ended up choosing Hédiard and we each got an incredible slice of quiche. Mine had tomatoes and cheese and some other vegetables, and it kind of tasted like what would happen if you merged a pizza with a quiche. I had been away from Chicago for almost 3 weeks at this point, and was really starting to miss pizza. I don’t even eat pizza that often at home, but as soon as I leave, it’s what I start missing. Mom is more keen on spinach than I am, so she picked a very green quiche, and the lovely staff at Hédiard warmed our lunches for us, and we took our cheery red bag across the street to eat on the steps of La Madeleine. I sampled Mom’s quiche and it was excellent, but I was glad I’d picked the mouth-watering quasi-Parisian-pizza quiche.

So a visit to the opera and a gourmet Parisian lunch? Our day of culture in Paris certainly started well. Stay tuned for more great eats and some sculpture.


Entry filed under: Churches, Europe, France, Paris, Photos. Tags: , , , , , , , .

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A serial road tripper chronicles her adventures.


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