December 06, 2009


So we were off for our first full afternoon in Paris, France. November in Europe maintains mild temperatures and some off and on rain, so we were prepared with layers and my umbrella, just in case. We first strolled over to Jardin du Luxembourg, which is the equivalent of New York City's Central Park. En route, very near our hotel, we spotted St. Sulpice (which Rick Steves' Paris 2010 guide informed us was featured in The Da Vinci Code, which I don't recall), though we did not go inside. Jardin du Luxembourg is probably stunning in the peak of flowering seasons, but for us, it was potted colorful flowers, elegant statues, French joggers and our first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower! We spent roughly half an hour in the garden, then continued on foot to explore. We happened upon the Pantheon, snapped photos of architecture, then transitioned to an open plaza outside of the Universite de Paris (La Sorbonne) where we stopped for lunch. Oui! My favorite memory of food formed itself this very first lunch. We were seated outside (in Paris, cafes arrange tables and chairs so that all patrons face outward to people-watch), ordered two Kronenbourgs and reviewed the menu, all of which provided English translations. No matter how simple, I had my heart set on ordering a baguette with camembert. Watching Parisians and sipping our beers in the very cooperative fall weather, knowing how many sights lay ahead for us, felt just perfect. And then my baguette arrived, sliced bread loaded with rich camembert. I've never tasted such brilliant cheese and such fresh bread! (For quite some time, I imagined that the reason it tasted so delightful was because we were in Paris, however I've since read that camembert in France is made from raw milk, forgoing the pasteurization process, which is deemed dangerous to health by the FDA in America. So seems as though I didn't just dream it up! The camembert in France is the best of the best.) Following lunch, we were back on our feet for more walking and seeing. We saw Notre Dame. We crossed the Seine. We traveled along the Louvre's exterior (we intended to begin our 2-day museum pass usage the next day)(above posted will be explained upon my recollection of Musee d'Orsay). Then we decided it best to knock out the Eiffel Tower at dusk, which would put us at the top of the Tower after dark so that we could witness The City of Lights from an aerial perspective. Now, we've seen monuments in the U.S. and in England. We've seen monuments in Canada. I felt rather like seeing the Eiffel Tower would just be another monument experience. Not the case. This massive steel structure rises up over Paris profoundly. There's nothing I can relate seeing this to. We loved it. And we lucked out with the length of the line for tickets. Craig had read the wait tends toward 2 hours in length (on a good day!); we waited just about half an hour for tickets, then another hour for the lifts to travel us to the platforms. Up top? Brilliant. The lights in Paris sprawl like sparkling gems, endless miles of glittering colored pin points against a backdrop of black night. We sought the view of the Arc de Triomphe - stunning (we would later actually walk to experience it at ground level.) For those contemplating a trip to Paris but debating skipping the top of the Eiffel Tower: don't miss it. Worth every second.*Once we descended from the Tower, we swung by a cafe for a beer (sitting outside, side by side, as the French do!) Then we headed back to Hotel Clement to change for dinner. We had elected to try a fancier steak restaurant in our arrondissement. Delicious food. And there was a dog accompanying its owner at dinner, because dogs are permitted in restaurants in Europe. Following dinner, we found a bar where we spent the remainder of the night. We felt so very happy. Paris gifted us with a fantastic first day brimming with breathtaking sights to fill our eyes. The cafe creme! The camembert! The buildings, one after another after another with ornate wrought iron railings protecting private balconies, the timelessness of Paris which has stood the test of hundreds of years of time. Europe maintains itself, preserves its history and its buildings. In America, a building hits its 60th birthday and we yank it down. In Europe, the streets are the same year after year. There's so much pride in that.*The above painting, Raboteurs de Parquet, hangs at Musee d'Orsay (which we visited Day Two). This painting blows my mind. I can't stop looking at it. There are so many brilliant repetitions of similar shapes, there are so many groups of 3's - the shapes of the arms, the shapes of the heads, the backs, the spaces created by the arms. This is a painting with an obviously intentionally designed composition. I love the bottle of wine. The lighting is also incredible. I wonder: did this artist work with live models? Did these men resume this pose hour after hour until the artist did not need them anymore? Note: the color of the jpeg I found on the Internet is off as compared to the painting in person. The postcard I purchased of it which hangs on our fridge is much closer. But nothing will trump standing in front of it, then collapsing in a painting coma into a chair facing it to just marvel in its brilliance. More to come on Paris Day Two. Highlights: I fell in love with sculpture, we viewed more art in one day than either of us ever has in the span of one day, and...the Louvre...nowhere in the world can boast such magnificence. Er, nowhere that I've seen thus far, I mean. :) J'adore Paris!

December 02, 2009


D'accord, Paris. I'm going to stroll through these posts slowly, savoring each recent memory so as to not forget. And so the recap begins with Tuesday, November 24, which found us traveling on a high speed Thalys train from Brussels' Midi station to Gare du Nord in Paris, France. We arrived wide-eyed at approximately 11.05, somewhat fearful of a potential language barrier, however altogether thrilled at the more foreign spin this leg would put on our vacation! I repeat: it's unwise to haul, drag, tote, muscle (what have you) large luggage to Europe. Yet we did, and we feared the transition from Thalys to the Metro in Paris. Fears? Unfounded. The biggest issue we noticed was that the ticket machines for the Metro were unfriendly toward American debit cards. We desired a book of 10 train passes, but were only able to purchase a ride apiece with what euro we had on us (ATMs in Europe spit out 50 E bills, so we were either armed with single euro coins, miscellaneous change or big bills). Upon acquiring our single ride tickets, we very briskly and smoothly found our Metro train, and within no time at all we were traveling on the brilliant public transportation system to our St. Germain des Pres neighborhood (the 6th arrondissement) on the Left Bank. It's impossible to describe our emergence from the subway. My arms were sore from grappling with the Too Big Bag up and down stairs. My head was a little groggy from a combination of Belgian beers from the night before and the gradual creep of jet lag. But none of these sensations mattered, for there we were in Paris, with the lovely white noise of French language being spoken around us as we gazed at the French urbanity bustling through its Tuesday. Spoiler alert: the neighborhood where we stayed was my favorite part of Paris. I will puff up my chest to stake this claim: I selected the neighborhood, or the arrondissement, even the hotel itself! Craig thanked me several times over the course of the next few days, which I appreciated. Typically when we travel, it's all on him (which works well, because he likes to research in advance, whereas I just like to go see and do!) But with the move and job transitioning and everything else we've had in store, it worked out that I was able to research our lodgings in Paris at greater length.*Craig is the cardinal direction guru in this relationship. You can blindfold him and spin him in circles and he tends to still find his way. However, for some mysterious reason, our hotel (Hotel Clement on Rue Clement, a quite ditty[small] side street) threw him for a cardinal loop, and we were in constant confusion as to where we were (just within the immediate vicinity of our hotel). But visiting Paris is simple: you walk, walk, and walk a little more, and somehow crack the code! We checked in early, immediately employing "en anglais, s'il vous plait" at the front desk. Our room number was 214, and the stairs to the right of the desk were narrow and spiraled somewhat, but we were instructed that the "lift" could be found up the first set of stairs. This particular lift would hold nothing more than our two Too Big Bags, so we shoved them both into the lift, then I darted up to meet them on the 2nd floor (although in Europe, ground level is considered "0", floor 2 is actually 1, basement or below ground is "-1"...I think I have that right?)...and we somehow made it into 214 which enchanted us instantly. The bed filled a majority of the room, akin to hotel rooms here in New York City, but the room held a certain charm that was the icing on our European cake. The bathroom and closet doors were adjacent to one another; the bathroom offered a small shower stall, small sink and small counter space, and the closet was sized just so to receive our two Too Big Bags on its floor (with a security safe, extra pillows and additional blankets on its shelf). And against one wall, a desk, with a small chair. Our windows overlooked a courtyard which resembled more of an air shaft (reminding me of our first apartment in NYC at 316 E. 92nd!) but the space was well-groomed, with kelly green latticework on the facade of the interior courtyard space and manicured plants at ground level. As taken as we were with the room at Hotel Clement, daylight hours were burning. And so we tucked our belongings into their right spots in the room and headed out for our first afternoon in Paris, France. Odd to note: we were told to leave the key at the front desk upon departing the hotel. That is, each time we left our room to venture out, we were to drop the room key at the desk to pick up upon return to the hotel. Sort of makes sense stepping back from it? But we'd never been asked such a thing. Hey, when in France, right?*I'm going to wrap up this initial Paris post on this note (to return with the thick of my content sooner than later)--my ability to read French from my several high school and college years of study did help on occasion. Granted, I have stage fright and couldn't utter many French words. But I could read it to beat the band. And that made me happy!