Wednesday, May 12, 2010

J'aime Paris

Bon jour everyone! Sorry I didn't get a chance to post before we left Paris, things have been pretty crazy with only being in each city for a few days. We've been really trying to see and do as much as possible in each city, which means a lot to write about and not much time to do it! Plus our hostel in Paris had really slow/expensive internet, so that made it difficult as well. I know that I'm going to need to start being a little more brief in my posts due to the fact that I don't have the time over here to compose short novels about each city...but I really do want to try to write as much as I can while it's fresh in my mind, so here goes...
Let me just start by saying, I LOVED Paris! Although I had heard mixed reviews about it from friends and family, it totally lived up to my idealized expectations, and we had an amazing 4 days there. The city has amazing art, tons of shopping and very fashionable residents (amazinggg people watching!), and unbeliveably delicious food, it was like my perfect city. The only thing that I wasn't prepared for was the weather, it's so cold! In both Paris and London, we unfortunately had really freezing, rainy weather. Everyone here is still dressed in winter coats and boots, which took me by surprise, as I thought the spring weather would be much milder. I was expected the rain a little more from London, but I thought springtime in Paris would be beautiful, but that was definitely not the case. Oh well, c'e la vie!

Anyway, Paris was lovely despite the chilly temperatures. We took the Chunnel from London to Paris (I slept basically the entire way) on Monday morning (5/10), and then walked to our hostel which was in the Monmarte neighborhood of the city. (For those of you familiar with Paris, we were staying right near Sacre Cour). The area itself seemed a little touristy, but our hostel, Le Village, was wonderful. We were supposed to be in an 8 person room, but lucked out as they ended up switching us to a 3 person room (that we were the only 2 people in 2 of the 4 nights we were there) with a private bath. (It's amazing how a few days of staying in hostels will make you appreciate even the simplest of amenities!) After checking in, we walked all the way up to this big, beautiful church, Sacre Coeur, which was on the hill right near our hostel. From the front of the church, we were able to get a really great view of the city. We toured the church, then walked to a nearby cafe to get lunch. Our waiter didn't speak much English, and the menu was all in French, but we managed to get by and have a great lunch.

After lunch, we hoped on the Metro (the subway in Paris) and headed to the very center of the city to go see Notre Dame. (One nice thing about Paris is its fantastic subway system-it's an inexpensive way to get all over the city, and there are tons of trains so you are never waiting longer than 2 or 3 minutes). There is actually a little plaque on the ground in front of the cathedral that marks Point Zero, the very center of Paris, where all other distances are measured from. The outside of Notre Dame is really intricate with tons of amazing sculptures, and the inside of the church is beautiful. It was also interesting to be able to contrast the style of the church with all the churches we had just seen in England, as the church here in Paris didn't have the strong connection with the monarchy like the churches we saw in London. Notre Dame is actually on a little island in the Seine River, and right behind it, there is another little island called Ile St. Louis. It's a very nice neighborhood of the city, so we had fun walking around it and getting some of it's famous Berthillon ice cream! We crossed over the Seine to La Rive Gauche, or the left bank of the river, where we walked around the Latin Quarter, an area around Sorbonne University that's bears that name because the university students all used to speak Latin. We also saw St. Sulpice, one of the churches featured in the Da Vinci Code. Then it was time for our first French dinner. We had passed some restaurants earlier in the afternoon that looked delicious, but we got a little turned around trying to find our way back to them. Then it started raining. And raining. Then pouring. So we basically walked around for what seemed like forever until we'll finally made it back to the restaurant I was looking for. We looked like drowned rats, but we had an amazing dinner of wine, bread, French Onion soup, and cheese fondue for dinner, and boy was it good! (I think the fact that we were cold and tired from walking in the rain made it taste that much better!) We had the french dessert profiteroles for dessert, and the friendly restaurant owner gave us a each a free shot of cognac, all in all, a good start to Paris.

The next morning, we had breakfast at the hostel, which consisted of croissants and delicious hot chocolate (much better then the English tea and toast in my opinion!) Since the Louvre is closed on Tuesdays, we decided to take the train out to Versaille, the famous palace of Louis XIV that's about a half hour outside of the city. The only unfortunate part is that is was freezing cold and rainy, so we weren't able to see the famous palace gardens. However, we did see the inside of the palace which was really luxurious, and we learned a great deal about French history. The palace has a large room called the Hall of Mirrors which King Louis XIV would impress his guest with, as the mirrors that line the walls were rare in his day, so we really enjoyed seeing that and all the other lavishly decorated rooms. After the palace, it was so cold and rainy we ended up having lunch at a McDonald's, which was actually really cool because it's so different from ours. They have a lot of different items and you place your order on a computer so it all seems very high tech. After lunch, we headed back to Paris and saw the Orsay Museum which showcases French art from 1848 to 1915, and is known for its large collection of impressionist/post-impressionist paintings by artists such as Monet, Van Gogh, Renoir, and Cézanne. While this personally isn't my favorite time period of art history, I really enjoyed the museum. Later that afternoon, we saw another well-known Parisian church, Saint Chapelle, which is famous for having been the house of the Crown of Thorns, which were purchased for France by King Louis IX (The Crown of Thorns is still in Paris, however, it's housed in the treasury of Notre Dame now, and only brought out on special days so we didn't get to see it unfortunately). The church has amazing stained glass windows which tell the story of the Bible from Genesis all the way to Revelation, and they were extremely beautiful. After seeing St. Chapelle, we toured the Conciergerie, a famous French prison. (Marie Antoinette was housed there during the French Revolution!) Afterwards, we walked to the Pantheon, which is the building that houses the tombs of some of France's most famous citizens, including Victore Hugo and Voltaire. Built by Louis XV, it's a beautiful church, both inside and out. After dinner, we walked around the adorable Marais neighboorhood, and had dessert at a cafe near it's picturesque park, Place des Vosges.

Wednesday was Lourve day, so Cam and I got up extra early to catch the Metro to be there before the crowds when the museum opened. I love love love art history, and have been looking forward to coming to the Louvre forever, so I was really excited. Luckily Cam is really on top of things and ordered us Paris Museum Passes before we left the States. These passes allow you get into almost all the museums in Paris, and they allow you to skip the ticket line, which we had heard was key for the Lourve. We got there @ 8:30am and took some pictures in the courtyard, and watch the ticket lines build in anticipation for the museum's 9am opening. We went to the entrance for people with museum passes, and were one of the first people in line, however, more and more people who also had museum passes began lining up behind us. The problem was that everyone who had these museum passes thought that they didn't have to wait in line, but lots of people had the pass and everyone has to go thru security, so even museum passholders have to wait. However, a lot of people weren't understanding that and were trying to cut in line, and one thing that bothers me more than anything else is when people cut in line! I was basically having a panic attack because it was so chaotic and I was getting mad that people were just cutting in line, whereas my calm husband kept going up to the line cutters and politely telling them that we all had museum passes and there was a line. It was basically just a zoo until we finally got in the museum! Once we got inside, we headed straight for the Mona Lisa, and didn't have to wait in line to see her at all, which was really neat, because wee had heard that sometimes there are huge lines to see it. It's just a small painting, but it was really cool to see such an iconic image in person.
The Lourve is huge, so we basically just made a game plan of things we wanted to see and we're able to do it within a few hours. We had lunch at a great cafe near the museum (another recommendation from our Rick Steve's guidebook), and then walked thru the Tulieries Gardens in front of the Lourve all the way to the Champs-Élysées, Paris most famous shopping street. We walked down to see Napolean's tomb, then headed to see the Eiffel Tower. We saw the tower from both sides, the little park in front, Champ de Mars, as well as from the Trocadero, which sits on hill on the other side of the tower. After dinner, we climbed all the way up to the top of the Arc d'Triomphe and saw the city at night which was really gorgeous. The Eiffel Tower was all lit up, and we even got to see it sparkle, which it does for the first five minutes of each hour in the evening.

After 3 full days in Paris, Cam and I spent our final day in the city of light just trying to enjoy it's simple pleasures. On Thursday morning, we strolled around the Monmarte neighborhood near our hostel (I wanted to get a picture in front of the Moulin Rouge sign!) and bought a variety of foods from different vendors to have a picnic that afternoon, since it appeared the weather was warming up a little. We bought pastries, bread, fruit, cheese, meat, and wine, and headed down to the Tuileries Gardens in front of the Lourve. Even though it was still pretty chilly, it was wonderful just to sit and relax, take in the scenery, and enjoy some delicious food. We spent the rest of the afternoon just walking around the city and doing some shopping ;)

We had some amazing food in Paris, ranging from nice restaurant to street food, but it was all delicious. I kept thinking of thinking of that famous Kate Moss quote, "Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels,"and thought, she must have never eaten the food they have here because it was honestly worth the 10lbs I'm sure I gained. Some of the random deliciousness we had included nutella crepes, this really good cheesy toast, amazing gelato, rich hot chocolate, goat cheese quiche, tart tartin (apple cake), a hot dog in a french baguette covered in cheese (sounds kind of gross, but it was really good!), lots and lots of yummy cappucinos, and the best cupcakes I've ever tried. But I'm pretty sure the best thing I had in Paris that I would go so far as to say is the best thing I've eaten ever was what I had for dinner on Thursday night. We were originally trying to go to this restaurant we had read about in the New York Times, so we walked and walked trying to find it and when we got there it was closed due to the fact that it was Ascension Day, which is apparently a big deal in France. At this point we were tired and starving, so we just decided to head back towards our hostel and find food on the way. We accidentally got off at the wrong Metro stop, and were just not happy campers at this point considering it was like 9:30 at night. So we decided to just go to the first restaurant we saw that was open, and luckily it happened to be a place called Relais Gascon. It was a pretty busy place, and it seemed to be filled with locals, which seemed to be a good sign. We finally got a table and I kept seeing everyone around me order these big salads that looked really good. I was skeptical about getting a salad since I was so hungry, but I decided to order their Salad du Bearnais which consisted of greens, tomatoes, hot goat's cheese, bacon lardons, and a garlic herb dressing, topped with these amazing fried potatoes which were soft like a french fry, but shaped like a potato chip. I don't know what it was about this salad (which clearly wasn't very healthy), but the combination of all these ingredients together was the most delicious thing I've ever eaten, hands down. I'm definitely going to try to make one when I get home because it was amazing!!!

I loved Paris, the end. On to Bruges!

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