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As I write this I am sitting on the fast train to Milan – I love train travel – it is so much more relaxing, once you have found the right car and seat that is – some of the signage  is confusing as we discovered this morning….  But I digress – our  second day in Paris dawned bright and warm for my significant birthday. When we stepped out on the balcony of our hotel room, the sun was shining through the Arc de Triomphe – picture perfect!

We found a cafe close by for breakfast which thankfully made great coffee, the first we have had on the trip so far!  After that we hit the pavements to stuff our day full of the ambience and sights of Paris. We headed off down the Champs Elysees again, which sadly was burgeoning  with beggars – situation normal it seems. They were mainly women and children, the women either lying on one side full length on the pavement, with one arm outstretched, paper cup in hand, or, on their knees, face down, one fist supporting their forehead, other arm outstretched, again with paper cup in hand. Add to that small, grubby children running around with paper cups which they thrust at you, and the beggars with cats, dogs and even rabbits, and it becomes a  confronting and sad circus.

We  set out to find the Opera Garnier, which was quite a walk, but no matter – there is much to see – we were all fascinated by a really unique shop we saw along the way – it had eye-catching window displays like the cluster of black brooms which were suspended from the ceiling, a pot of oversized feather dusters in the door, pet accessories and other nifty things. We came across The Madeleine too, which I had never seen, and finally we reached the Opera House.

What a magnificent building – it is enormous, but it is the interior which takes your breath away. The huge Grand Foyer reminded us of the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles – gold and chandeliers galore. The grand staircase evoked a time when women would have swept up the stairs, lifting the hems of their beautiful long gowns as they ascended in all their finery.

When we entered The Auditorium I was struck by the depth of the stage, which was being set up for a season of modern ballet – what I wouldn’t give to see it! Especially if I was seated in one of the plush boxes. The ceiling too is magnificent and memorable. The exterior balconies afforded a great view of the Grand Hotel, another Paris icon.

Having finished our visit to the Opera House, it was time for lunch in a bustling creperie – I love Parisian buckwheat pancakes – delish! We planned to buy them from a roadside vendor on the way to the Garnier but it was early and the ones we saw along our walk were still closed. During lunch we planned our next route which included the visit to the Printemps rooftop and then crossing over to the Left Bank to see the Pantheon.

I had often read that for a wonderful 360 degree view of Paris,  the rooftop of the beautiful Printemps department store was the place to go – correct! The view is amazing – there is a very nice restaurant too, which was bathed in sunlight yesterday – very hot, but such a great viewing platform.

Next stop was the Pantheon on the Left Bank – a very long walk from Printemps but we strolled through the forecourt of the Louvre, then across the Seine, stopping to go down the stairs and walk beside the river. Back up on the street level, I decided to introduce our friends to a favourite watering hole, Odette’s, but sadly it had lost its appeal, so we found a very nice bar to take the weight off our feet and had a welcome drink – Aperol spritz in my case – I may become addicted…

The Pantheon was next and oh so worth it. I had not done much research on it, and had no idea that so many famous French people were buried in the crypt or commemorated there, including Voltaire, Rousseau and The Curies. As with many historic French monuments, the information was accessible, fascinating and informative. The boys decided not to come and sat drinking beer in an English pub(!) called The Bombardier, which was just around the corner. Just opposite the pub stands the beautiful Saint- Etienne-Du-Mont church, which Kim and I took the opportunity to visit.

We decided to take the RER back as our feet were weary, then it was off to Caffe Actuarial for a very nice Italian meal to celebrate my birthday. The restaurant was inside a very elegant and stately building at the end of the Champs Elysees – very apt for a birthday. The highlight of the dinner for me were the tempura-battered stuffed zucchini flowers – SO good! Sadly the dinner meant the end of a couple of brilliant days with our dear friends, but we did have breakfast with them before taking a taxi to catch our train.