Europe Highlights: Paris

3 Oct

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I expected Paris to be my hands-down favorite city. Between researching it the most out of any town, and having a more rigid plan for it than any other place, I just knew that this city I’d long, long dreamed of visiting was going to blow every other place away. It’s not that Paris disappointed me — that doesn’t feel accurate to say. It really is simply that we strayed very far from the plan I’d laid out, which I’m normally totally OK with (most of my “plans” for the cities we were visiting were loose lists of cool places in various areas around town, meant for flexibility), but in this case I just felt like we missed so many of the key locations that I was dying to see. We didn’t make it to Laduree, the shop that first created the macaroon; we never made it to Pont de l’Archevêché, the bridge where star-crossed lovers leave a lock and throw their key in the Seine*, signifying they’ll be together forever. There were so many little excursions I really wanted to go on, but because of time and distance and exhaustion, we simply just weren’t able to make it happen. Not to mention, the original plan was to bike everywhere in Paris, but after my Freiburg fall, I was having none of that. I’d become way too nervous, particularly without having a helmet — I started to visualize myself tipping over on my bike and then a car running over my head and splatting my brainguts everywhere**. I think for this trip, for me, Paris suffered from timing and exhaustion. It was smack-dab in the middle of our adventures, we planned an unnecessary hotel change in the middle of our stay, causing us to not get too comfortable in one place, and we just simply tried to pack too much in.

*This and the lack of museums were my biggest regrets. 

**I was a bit sad we never biked anywhere in Paris. We could have seen a bit more, but it really is so spread out, you need to take trains everywhere and have more than double the time we had.

Now, that all being said — I did really love so much about Paris. The architecture, the people (my favorites of anywhere on our trip), the food, the food, the food. Let’s dig in, shall we? I definitely fell in love with Paris more than Caitlin did in this short trip. I found it entirely intoxicating and felt it was by far the most alive city we went to. We may not have seen everything, but I loved almost everything we saw.

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Zack and I opted for another train ride to take us from Freiburg to Paris. The noticeable shift away from German and toward French was intimidating, to say the least. I never feel good about just waltzing into a place as an American and simply shrugging, “Hey, speak to me in the English, OK?” But that was going to have to be my reality for the remainder of the trip, because all I could say in French was “The boy eats” and I knew absolutely zero Italian. In German, because I want to present myself as being intelligent AND because I don’t want to bother anyone, I often fall into the (bad) habit of just nodding and smiling when I think I get the gist of what someone has said to me, even if I don’t fully understand. If I flat-out have no idea what a person is saying, I will own up, but if I think I even have an inkling of what’s being told to me, I’ll fake it till I make it. I realized immediately in France that this was no longer an option. I just had to stare back at the other person, wide-eyed and open-mouthed, until they gestured or changed languages so we could communicate. Zack made me feel better about it, assuring me that we were in France to learn more and be patrons of the city — without him, I think I’d have wanted to hide under a rock. Hehe. I actually kind of enjoyed having us both knowing none of the language. It was helpful to have Caitlin be able to speak German, but it often made me feel more left out. She’d have conversations in German and only relate a little of it back to me, sometimes actually speaking to me in German, forgetting to switch to English when explaining. All I said in Paris was “Merci” and it worked out just fine.  (I’m not a beaucoup guy.)

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When we arrived at our first little B&B/hostel situation in Paris, nobody was home. We knew that our official check-in wasn’t until 4PM that day anyway, but we had all of our bags and weren’t exactly sure what we should do. We heard someone upstairs vacuuming and cleaning, so Zack called up* and the cleaning woman for the place came down and was kind enough to let us stash our bags inside of a lock room in the building, and took down our information for the owner of the place. 

*I just called up the name of the hotel. “L’ Hotel Particular?!”

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We had a mini-photo shoot in the area around our building, because this is the real vibrancy of the walls. It was like a dream! A perfect Parisian side street, right out of a magazine. We loved playing with the color isolation on these.

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While we waited, Zack encouraged us to have a little walk around the neighborhood. I was hesitant*, feeling like I couldn’t settle in until our bags were safely in our room, but I was convinced to at least just go around our area to see what we could see. We found an adorable coffee shop that sold macaroons, and decided to dig in. 

*We were literally sitting in a room filled with bedding laundry. Surely a cafe nearby would be more comfortable. 

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This initial taste of Paris deliciousness was just perfect, and helped fuel us to figure out how we wanted to spend the rest of our evening. After we were done nomming, we wandered over to a nearby bridge that went over the Seine, saw what we thought might probably be Notre Dame in the distance, and then made our way back to our B&B, where we sat for a while and then ran into some of our neighbors for the evening, from Singapore*. It was a really sweet couple who asked us all about where we were from and what we did, but most importantly, who had been in contact with the owner of the B&B and so were helping to coordinate us getting inside. The owner never did show up because he got tied up elsewhere, but we were able to go back inside and grab keys from within our rooms to get settled.

*Really nice couple. They were impressed that we worked for Apple and we had a bit of a miscommunication when talking about bikes which they thought meant motorcycles. Very glad they kept better contact with the owner of the B&B than we did. 

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After we got ourselves situated, it was time to head over to catch a show by Au Revoir Simone at the Nouveau Casino. We had a restaurant in mind for the evening but decided to just get something near the venue, which ended up being a mistake because we just got some only-OK fast food pizza and sandwiches in desperation. Still, we salvaged the night by scoring an early Beatles record on vinyl at a knick-knack shop, and then by listening to a little bit of the easy, breezy Au Revoir Simone set before leaving early to get extra rest. My favorite part of this outing was checking out what was described online as “the hyper hip countercultural scene that blossoms along the rue Oberkampf every night.” It looked like a great place to have a bar crawl in. Unfortunately, we weren’t up for it that first night. 

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The next day, as we were trying to purchase our tram passes for the rest of our trip, I was asked to type in the name of the stop where we were starting from. I remembered “Rapée,” so I started to type that in, and stopped before the last letter*. It’s the only time I’ve laughed at such a joke**, but I couldn’t help it — the blaring typo from my exhausted brain was too funny. 

*The screen read: RAPE. It shouldn’t have been nearly as funny as it was. 

**Probably the first and last time Caitlin laughs at a “rape joke.”

We started our day at an open market,the Marche d’Aligre, where we walked around in a daze, just trying to process all of the food and clothes and books and antiques we were surrounded by.We ran into an expat at the market who pegged us for Americans right away, and gave us the tip that if we were to come back at around 1PM prices on everything would be vastly reduced, and even after that, you could scavenge through the day’s leftovers and get a lot of great fruit and veggies for free. We also popped into some nearby shops for chocolate, cheese, and more chocolate.

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After dropping goodies back at our room, we set off for the Louvre, wanting to check that off of our list before we got too exhausted. We’d heard horror stories about queues for tickets, so as we entered the Louvre underground, we braced ourselves. Zack insisted that we snap a photo of him by the Apple store (gotta pay a little homage to work when we’re away, after all), and you can see the inverted pyramid (which I kept referring to as “the triangle”) in the window reflection.

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We were very happily surprised to see self-service ticket machines inside of the Louvre with NO line. Yup, you read that right. We waltzed right up to the machines, bought our tickets, and headed inside the museum. We didn’t really have a plan going in, so we just sort of wandered around based on floors of exhibits that sounded interesting. We’ll detail our Louvre trip later, but the Cliff’s Notes are that we did see the Venus de Milo and there was a huge crowd around her but she was pretty cool; we did NOT see the Mona Lisa. We were fairly close to the painting, we think, but ultimately exhaustion and desire for hot chocolate won out. We liked the sculptures the best and I made an inappropriate Vine, but we’ll get to that later. 

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After taking some jumping shots outside of the Louvre, we wandered far down the street until we came to Angelina. I had read in various guidebooks that Angelina served the best hot chocolate in the world. In the world?! We couldn’t miss trying it, and it did not disappoint. Their hot chocolate is thick, creamy, decadent, rich, and almost has a gentle spice to it. It’s served in a moderately large pitcher with tiny bowls of fresh whipped cream so that you can dilute it just a bit. It was absolutely divine. Out of this world stuff. There was a 20 minute wait to get in and you wonder if it’ll be worth it and good lord was it. The most sublime cup of liquid cocoa you’ve ever had. And easily the best macaroons. Each one really captured the essence of the flavor.  

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We decided to give some of the restaurant’s macaroons a try as well, and opted for lemon, vanilla, raspberry and I think chestnut. The filling of these macaroons was ACTUAL FRUIT so they had sharp, loud flavors that made each one a very satisfying dessert. They packed a punch like no other macaroon. This place is an absolute must.

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After we were done going to town on some sugary goodness, we took our time exploring some of the shops along the same street, the Rue de Rivoli. We popped into a sweet shop where they were giving out free samples, and I snatched up an assorted box of caramels that I’ve been indulging in all week. Then, we checked out a bookstore, where I purchased an English-word-but-French-made planner for 2014 (it. is. the. cutest.) and a book called Paris, My Sweet that I intended to read on the plane but am still just starting now. Finally, we stopped by a store we saw on our way to Angelina called The Mod Shop (I mean, how could we not given the name?) and Zack was sweet enough to buy me some amazing Eiffel Tower earrings. We avoided all other kitschy Eiffel Tower memorabilia for the weekend, but these were just too good to pass up. It was nice to have some English reading. I barely passed up buying a couple collections of Vonnegut short stories and a Beatles book that caught my eye, but flipped through them as we relaxed.

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For dinner, we decided to forgo a dinner reservation in favor of hitting up a place that was billed as being “for the young and hip” in our guidebook. It was definitely a solid meal — Zack went for the escargot (eeps) and I just had some amazing penne pasta because, no snails for this lady, thank you. The snails were real solid. It’s like a mix between fish and chicken. I didn’t want too much food after that late afternoon stop for cocoa and macaroons. 

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The penne with fresh shredded parmesan on top.

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We wanted to try a real night out for once (aka staying up at least until midnight), but we had trouble figuring out where, exactly, we should go. We ended up at a corner cafe with wine and ice cream, nearby a group of very drunk 40-something French folks, watching the world go by. These guys were so hilariously drunk. They kept fake fighting each other and one of them had just the best French guy laugh ever. Really entertaining. 

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The next morning we hauled our bags across the city to our new hotel, the Hotel Apollon Montparnasse. Our intention was to “splurge” on a really nice hotel for one night of our Paris stay, but the Apollon was a moderate splurge, really. It was adorable, but (as with many other European lodgings) very small and our view out of the window was down into the back alley of the place with a bunch of air conditioning units*. Still, it was nice to have a new home base for one night, and after checking in, we took off for Crêpetown. Seriously, Montparnasse has about 20 crêperies all in a row, and I feel pretty confident that we hit up one of the best ones. We decided on Crêperie Josselin, and it did not disappoint. Zack had what is essentially the “breakfast crêpe” you see above, with eggs and bacon** right on the thing.

*We were psyched to have WiFi and tv again though. Even if we only watched the business news since it was the only thing in English. I downloaded the third to last Breaking Bad. 

**Sweet sassy molassy, this crepe. Putting an egg on anything is usually a good idea, and duh, bacon. 

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I had a fresh tomato-and-mozzarella salad for my lunch, because I knew what was coming for me as my dessert.

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When I ordered the Couple au Caramel au Beurre Sale (Maison), the waitress nodded her head and smiled in approval. I knew I’d done something good. This was a crêpe with a large scoop of vanilla ice cream IN ITS CENTER, plus made-in-house toffee and caramel. Go ahead and let that sink in, I’m gonna get back to dreaming about eating it. She was gracious enough to share a couple bites and send me to nom town. 

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With Paris on the itinerary, I couldn’t help but dream of snagging some one-of-a-kind dress or coat that I could wear to transport me back to the city of lights, so I really wanted to make the Galeries Lafayette a priority for the trip. From photos, the architecture of the building seemed stunning. While it was absolutely gorgeous, at the end of the day — we were at the mall. I should have known going in that it was just going to feel like a mall, but when I’d visited KaDeWe the last time I was in Berlin, it felt like a different sort of high-class mall, and I really enjoyed taking my time perusing the various sections and admiring the different wares. I left that store with a Simon & Garfunkel CD Box set. I left Lafayette with only a gift for my family.

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The problem is, if I’m trying to clothes shop, because I’m not the target market for most fashion labels size-wise, I really have to take my time to find something that’s going to be a stunner. Zack was getting antsy and feared that we’d miss out on seeing loads of other attractions if we spent too much time in what felt like a pretty typical mall, so I internalized that and felt like I had to rush. Zack really did his best*, trying to give me patience and let me look at one more area of this or that clothes rack, but since he was ready to go and I internalized it, I basically gave up, making the whole trip feel like somewhat of a wash and a waste. It also, unfortunately, made me get down on myself for not being the target-market of French fashion designers, which is an icky outcome in and of itself. I’m glad we popped in, especially because we did find gifts to bring home, but when we head back to Paris, I think I’ll avoid the mall and do my shopping in boutiques (and possibly go it alone so Zack doesn’t have to feel trapped, and can enjoy a bike ride or stinky cheese indulgence instead).

I was super reluctant to go to a mall in our short trip to Paris. I played Monopoly on my phone while Caitlin shopped after we picked out a spoon for her stepdad. It’s pretty and everything, but a mall is a mall is a mall. 

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Next on the list was the Eiffel Tower. When you get off at the Eiffel stop on the tram, if you don’t pay extra to take the one-stop speedway directly to the tower, you might be confused. You won’t see the Tower at first, at all. You have to wander a ways down the street before it emerges from behind the trees. It is a stunning structure, and very surreal to be at a landmark that you’ve surely seen throughout your life in countless books and photos and movies. I was all-in on the Eiffel Tower. Loved it on first glance and loved it more the longer we were there. 

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We’ll tell the tale of our Eiffel Tower tour in a separate post, but it took up most of our afternoon into the evening, meaning that by the time we were done, we struggled with how to plan out the rest of the night. I wanted to go to Laduree, the original macaroon shop, but we felt weird about getting macaroons right before dinner. We decided to again forgo a dinner reservation we had, and then tried to decide if we should go lock the engraved lock we got in Freiburg on the lock bridge. We spent so much time deliberating, that by the time we were back at our hotel to plan next steps, it was too dark for the lock bridge, Laduree was closed, and I was nearly in tears because this was our last evening to fit in the stuff I wanted to do. We’d agreed to give the Paris Fat Tire Bike Tour a shot the next day, and that was going to take up all of our day before we had to catch a plane to Venice, so even though we were still in Paris, I already started to feel the loss of things I’d desperately wanted to do. I’m ashamed about that, because why cry about losing something that you still have? Zack comforted me by assuring me we’d be back in 2016, and we’d spend a whole week in Paris to make sure we were able to do the things we couldn’t do the first time. That helped, and then our dinner got me to feeling 100% better. I felt bad that Caitlin was getting so down about what we hadn’t done in Paris after an incredible day at the tower, with a half day left to go, but it was a bit of a let down. Thankfully, dinner was awesome. 

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I don’t know what this meat-plate monstrosity is, but Zack sure enjoyed it. It was a layer of potato pancake, covered by salad, covered by duck breast. Honestly might have been my favorite meal of the entire trip. Incredible combination.

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I ordered a simple plate of risotto with salad. Standard fare, right? WRONG. You are so wrong. This was, literally, the best thing I’ve ever eaten. I know that sounds absolutely insane, but the texture of the food and the flavor from the cream sauce with the parmesan strips plastering it and just my god, this was like forkfuls of heaven. The restaurant was called l’Envie, presumably because y’all should all be really, really envious of us getting to eat there. 

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Since dinner was so amazing, we agreed to stay for dessert. To say I’m glad we did would be a vast, vast understatement. Mine was the chocolate tart of gold swimming in caramel on the bottom, and Zack shared a bit of his creamy berry cheesecake with me, too. This lifted my spirits, and I was ready to face our last half-day the next morning. How can you be sad after eating the best meal of your life? You really can’t.

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We checked out of our hotel in the early AM*, and the awesome front desk guy reminded us he’d made a reservation for a shuttle to take us to the airport at 3:30PM, and to be at least 10 minutes early for it. He let us store our bags at the front desk, so we jetted off to catch the Fat Tire Bike Tour for Paris. We’ll be talking in depth about both of our bike tours later, but I can say now that while our counterparts on the Paris bike tour became closer friends for us (D.C.’s Matt and Erica** we miss youuu!) this tour was not nearly as in-depth as Berlin’s. Still, our guide was kind enough to get us back to the bike headquarters in plenty of time to get back to the hotel and catch our shuttle, which I very much appreciated (though I felt badly because it seems as though everyone on our tour had their time cut short just to get us back). You’re all noticing Caitlin is the only one wearing a helmet, right. Just wanted to make sure 😉

*After a breakfast in which I talked about the latest Breaking Bad with a stranger at the next table.

**He’s a big sports fan and she’s a triathlete so we had a lot to discuss. 

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Now that I’ve had time to digest the whirlwind that was Paris, I have nothing but good feelings about it, and I’m all the more excited to go back and explore even more with Zack next time. We still have a love-lock to put on a bridge, and a key to throw in the Seine, after all. Just re-reading this I feel like all we did was eat and see a tiny bit of this city. We’ll give it a real go next time and just see Paris for a full week. Until next time. 

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2 Responses to “Europe Highlights: Paris”

  1. Marlene November 25, 2014 at 1:06 pm #

    I’m from Paris and must tell you to come back immediately, so many other things you have to do, see, and taste!!

    • Caitlin November 25, 2014 at 2:18 pm #

      Thank you!! We can’t wait until we get to:)

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