Friday, April 25, 2014

French Friday: My Trip to Paris: Wednesday-Sunday Recap

I had such an amazing time in beautiful Paris. We did a lot, as you will see!

This post serves as "Part 1," a recap of what we did for the first several days. If I am not super descriptive about a particular thing, don't worry; I may devote a future post to the subject. I will also fill you in on such details like how much French I spoke throughout all these activities later.

We departed on Wednesday, April 9, 2014. Unfortunately, we suffered some bad luck driving to the Dulles Airport. On 495, the serpentine belt on Elizabeth's vehicle broke in half. Even though she lost power steering, she managed to safely switch lanes and pull over on the right shoulder. We called Elizabeth's dad who rescued us. All this occurred during rush hour. He arrived in what could be record time in such circumstances and a couple of minutes before AAA did to tow the jeep. Not having to worry about parking in the economy lot and then shuttling over, we were dropped off at the terminal a half an hour before the time we expected to arrive there. We had some time to kill, so we exchanged some dollars for euros and indulged in scrumptious burgers and fries from Fuddruckers for dinner. Our airline was Icelandair. We had a nearly six-hour flight to Keflavik Airport in Reykjavik, Iceland and then a over three-hour flight to Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. On the flights, I read books on my Kindle that I was saving for the trip. I also borrowed my friend's headphones so I could watch the movie Chocolat. If I can't sleep on planes, at least I can spend some time with Johnny Depp.

We arrived in Paris on Thursday, April 10, 2014. While Elizabeth waited to pick up her checked bag at baggage claim, I "checked in" at CDG airport on facebook. From Terminal 1 at the airport, we took a shuttle bus to the train station. Next, we took the train (the RER B) to a major metro stop in Paris, Châtelet. We transferred there, riding two more stops towards our hotel. Elizabeth was struggling a bit with her two 21" carry-ons up stairs, through turnstiles and basically around a busy subway system. I fared much better with my single lightweight (20-lb.) 19" carry-on and personal item bag thrown over my shoulder. I highly recommend that you pack very lightly if you are not going to pay for a taxi to the hotel and tip a bellhop to the room.

We arrived at out hotel, Normandy, located at 7 Rue De L'Echelle.

Hotel Normandy


From the reviews, I expected it to be shabby, and it was. There was ripped and stained carpet, bubbled paint, chipped tile everywhere. The bathroom sink water pressure was low. But, the hotel is very old! Luckily, it was clean. In fact, I didn't use my shower shoes (flip flops) once. I thought the room was spacious for European standards. We even had a big bathtub (with a shower curtain!) instead of a small shower stall. The hotel was centrally located in the 1st arrondissement, just blocks from the Louvre. You really can't beat that! It matched the neighborhood with its grand style, columns and all. The staff was also very nice. Overall, I would stay there again and recommend it to others.

I love the scalloped detail on the ceiling above our two single beds.

Scalloped Detail on Ceiling

Hotel Room Window

Hotel Room View

While in the room, it wasn't too early to call with the time difference, so I phoned my mother to check in. Rearranging some things to set off for the day, I discovered that my digital camera was broken. I had just used it on Sunday for the blog. I realized I would have to limit myself and take pictures with my phone. Luckily, my travel buddy was behind her camera the entire time and is trying to upload pictures for awhile now so I have access to her nearly 2,200 photos over at Shutterfly.

Our first stop was our hotel bar for a couple of over-priced cafés. We needed some caffeine in order to move on.

That afternoon, we had hot chocolate at Angelina, the famous tea room which Coco Chanel frequented. Pretty close to our hotel, it is located on Rue de Rivoli, right across from the Tuileries Garden. It was elegant. This is a European-style cocoa, which is very thick and decadent, almost like hot pudding. It was fun to see Elizabeth experience it for the first time.

Our table at Angelina. 
Pitcher of hot chocolate and cups of whipped cream on the left and water on the right.

My hot chocolate at Angelina.
High on my 'to do list.'

We crossed the Seine from the Right Bank to the Left Bank on the Pont des Arts, which is the pedestrian bridge full of love locks. A couple will write their initials on a lock, secure it to the bridge or other locks and throw the key in the river. I loved it and we took pictures.

We arrived in time to see the Rodin Museum close for the day. Oh well. Next time. I will just have to return to Paris!

When we arrived in the Champ de Mars park, I loved seeing the Eiffel Tower. I thought it was beautiful. The structure is a brownish-gray color and very large. 

The Eiffel Tower

Me in front of the Eiffel Tower!

After we stopped for Liz to caffeinate with a café crème (which is what you order in Paris when you want coffee with milk) in a nearby bar, we hopped in line to ascend the Eiffel Tower. It was daylight while we were in line, around sunset while in the elevator and it was dark by the time we made it to the top. The view was spectacular. The city light up at night was stunning. I am afraid of heights so I didn't love being up so high, but very much wanted to accompany Elizabeth the whole trip. 

We walked towards the hotel looking to stop some place for dinner. We ended up at a sidewalk cafe two places from our hotel, Café de L'Echelle. I ordered pizza margherita and a glass of Bordeaux. Instead of basil leaves, there was a spiral of good extra virgin olive oil with minced basil in it. It was delicious! Liz ordered another kind of pizza. She also tried water "with gas" but like me, didn't care for it. 

It was late and we collapsed in bed. I slept hard for a bit and then was fully awake for hours before having to get ready for the day.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Our hotel was nearly catty-corner from one of the locations of the famous breadmaker Eric Kayser. His Left Bank location was on my itinerary, but this location was a wonderful surprise. Since it was good and open early, we made it a regular spot for breakfast. We took our breakfast to the Louvre's beautiful courtyard and ate on a stone bench. Our view was incredible with the Louvre buildings and the glass pyramid. We loved it so much, we wanted to eat there every morning! On Friday morning, I savored a pain au chocolat and a cappuccino and some water.




We waited for a store in the Carrousel du Louvre (which turned out to be a mall) to open so we could purchase our Museum Passes, and then visited the art museum, the Louvre when that opened. There were signs pointing the way to the Mona Lisa, so that's one of the first masterpieces we saw. Everyone tells you that you will be disappointed in seeing her, so with that information, she was much better than I expected. I would also light up when I saw a work like this one that I recognized in my past life as an Art Historian. I dragged Elizabeth (who was a great sport) across the museum to see their Vermeer, The Lacemaker. We only spent a bit more than two hours in this humongous museum, which means we hardly saw anything. This is a selfie of us in one of the sculpture gardens.

Michelle and Elizabeth at the Louvre

We strolled down the major shopping street, the Champs-Élysées. The Arc de Triomphe sits at the western end. Fortunately, we didn't go up it since Elizabeth doesn't love stairs and I don't love heights. I forgot to stop at Ladurée for macarons while on the Champs-Élysées so instead of hopping on the closest metro to head to the next thing, we backtracked and walked down the other side of street until we hit it. The store was very busy and when it was my turn, I selected two chocolate, one Ecuadorian chocolate, one rose, one vanilla and one red fruits flavored cookies. 

Macarons from Ladurée

I kept the pretty pale pink box.

We took the metro to Montmartre. First, we split a meal picked up at a bar. We halved a chicken sandwich, shared a can of Coca-Cola and savored a Nutella crêpe. We enjoyed this delicious lunch sitting on the hill in front of white domed Sacré-Coeur. We toured this church next. I recognized the distinctive exterior and that it was perched on top of a hill, but I was taken by surprise with its interior. This cathedral simply isn't centuries old. Montmartre is known for its charm so we wandered around its hilly streets surrounding Sacré-Coeur. We stopped in a souvenir shop to purchase postcards. We also passed the Moulin Rouge

We intended to have a picnic dinner in Parc Monceau. We managed to purchase a cheap bottle of red wine, a rotisserie chicken, a baguette and some Comté cheese, all from different stores, but I didn't bring my corkscrew. After we rested on a bench there for awhile, I convinced Elizabeth to go back to the hotel for it. I wanted the wine! Plus, we could grab the two small glasses from our room as well (instead of taking swigs from the bottle which we totally would have done). We ended up eating in the Tuileries Garden. We had two groups of people borrow our wine bottle opener. We also had a dog watch every move for much of dinner, hoping to be fed. I thoroughly enjoyed our picnic. We sampled the macarons for dessert.

Saturday, April 12, 2014 was our major sightseeing day of the trip. From our hotel, we strolled along the Seine over to Notre Dame, stopping for a café for me and a café crème for Elizabeth standing at the bar at this place on the Left Bank right across the river from our first attraction on Île de la Cité. I love the western portal of the exterior.

Notre Dame

I used to have the name of each architectural element memorized back in AP Art History in high school.

Center Door, Notre Dame

I had my travel buddy take pictures of me holding the card from my favorite coffee shop in front of it. I plan to provide the print for their "Where have you bean?" travel wall. We visited the cathedral which is over 850 years old and is amazing. Next, we walked eastward so Elizabeth could take pictures of all of it and I could peek at Île Saint-Louis. We just crossed the bridge and I took a few pictures of the buildings of this charming island.

Île Saint-Louis

Back on Île de la Cité, we visited Sainte-Chapelle which features amazing stained glass windows creating such a sacred space. The Conciergerie is next door. This building served as law courts and a prison. It was actually where Marie Antoinette was briefly held prior to her execution.

After that, we crossed a bridge to the Left Bank and toured the two-level Shakespeare and Co. bookstore which is quaint and invites you to linger and be inspired or curl up with a book. I found out later that this is not the exact location frequented by Hemingway.

After browsing the bookstore, we walked to the corner to Café Le Petit Pont for a coffee, orange juice and croissant breakfast. I asked for a café (meaning an espresso) but was served a café allongé which is an espresso cut with hot water like an American coffee, probably because I look and sound like an American as well as being in an establishment that catered to tourists. The butter croissant was beautiful, flaky, and delicious, not overwhelming with butter flavor like I feel they are in the US. The orange juice, with pulp, was served in a small stemmed wine glass. It was a very touristy spot. We were seated outside, so I could look out and people-watch. Most of the café chairs face out to do just that. I loved checking out what everyone was wearing. The sun was out. It was a cool spring day.

 Sidewalk Cafe

View from Café Le Petit Pont

I noted in my little black leather lined notebook that, " I even enjoy writing in this book a la Hemingway, imagining scenes from The Paris Wife in my head."

We strolled through the Saint-Germain area in the 6th arrondissement. We came across a couple of famous coffee shops, frequented by great writers from the 1920s. First, was Café Les Deux Magots.

Café Les Deux Magots

And next, was Café de Flore, where I insisted that we stop for a quick café even though I have already had two coffees that day (and am sensitive to caffeine). I wanted the experience of being there.

Café de Flore

Elizabeth entertained herself by snapping a couple of pictures of me downing my espresso. I left money for the over-priced beverage on the table. With so much caffeine in my veins, I probably couldn't sit still if I tried!

Me Having a Quick Café at Café de Flore

We walked along the "roo de loo" (rue de l'Université) until we came upon number 81, the building where Julia Child lived. I was reading about her and loved that I made the pilgrimage to her place. Since this woman is famous in America and not in France, there is not even a plaque posted. On the way, I took this picture of the middle of a building door in this residential neighborhood in the 7th arrondissement. I just loved the lions everywhere in Paris!

Door Detail: Lion

We visited the Musée d'Orsay which is renowned for its Impressionist art collection. It was great to see a Degas, his ballerinas. The museum is a work of art itself. It was converted from a train station.

We stopped at the Eric Kayser's Left Bank location that I mentioned previously. I remember reading this blog post about their chocolate chip cookie and since this is my favorite kind of cookie, it stuck with me. Turns out a chocolate chunk cookie with nuts is called a chocolat noir. Each of us picked up one and savored it sitting next to the Seine. It was really good.


With some sugar in our system, we walked along the Seine, stopping for pictures of the regal bridge, the Pont Alexandre III. Next, we visited the Army Museum and Napoleon's Tomb. At the museum, Elizabeth wanted to visit the armor exhibit. 

After that, my feet were aching so badly that I told Elizabeth that we need to find a pharmacy so I could buy some aspirin and have some relief. I looked it up on my phone and we took the metro to the closest one. At the sight of a green plus sign, I walked in, asked for them, and paid for a box. On the street, I noticed that they were effervescent aspirin, so you dissolve them in a glass of water. I was in pain and so when my friend suggested I slip it under my tongue and let it dissolve, I broke a circular tablet in half and gave it a try. The thing started wildly foaming in my mouth! Even though it tasted so awful that I was gagging, I was very aware that I was an American standing on a Parisian street and I did not want to be seen foaming at the mouth like a rabid animal! So, I actually swallowed it! I bought a bottle of water from a crêpe bar and sitting on a bench next to Saint-Sulpice, made myself drink some water with the dissolved medicine too. It made the pain bearable, so I could appreciate the beauty of the fantastic chocolate shop window displays nearby.

We dined at Café Le Nemours that evening. I chose lasagna, which was Frenchified under a thick layer of cheese, along with a salad and red wine. Elizabeth tried a French dish, cassoulet, which was a white bean stew, this time with duck. I tried it and even though I'm a picky eater, thought I could manage to eat the whole thing. I snapped this photo after dinner...

Café Le Nemours

Sunday, April 13, 2014 was our day trip day. In fact, we took two day trips! In a single day, yes. First, Versailles and then Rouen. We got up early and crossed the two streets at the intersection in front of our hotel to arrive at Eric Kayser, our regular place. This time, we ate upstairs, sitting at the counter on stools taking in the view of the sleepy block. I had my first pain aux raisins, which was wonderful, just like I remember enjoying in Italy. Elizabeth tried it too and liked it, so much that I saw her order it regularly after that point. Her breakfast that morning was my favorite, pain au chocolat. I also ordered a cappuccino which was served in a clear glass mug with a silver handle.

Eric Kayser Pain aux Raisins and Cappuccino

I took a picture and posted it on facebook.

Pain aux Raisins and Cappuccino Breakfast with a View

We took the metro to the (train) RER C to Versailles. Arriving, we followed the crowds walking through the town to the palace.

Gate, Versailles

There was a long line, but like everything else so far, it was worth it.

Versailles and Its Line

In the Chateau, I loved to picture who used each room and how it was used. We saw the king's bedchamber and the queen's too, as well as as the rooms leading up to and just after them, for work and play. Some of these were holding rooms for the courtiers, waiting until they could attend to the monarch. Of course, everything was ornate and gilded. Also, distinctly masculine or feminine.

King's Bed

I was looking forward to the Hall of Mirrors the most and that ended up being my favorite at the Chateau.

Hall of Mirrors at Versailles

I particularly adored all the crystal chandeliers.

Chandelier, Hall of Mirrors, Versailles

Overall, it was stunning. Elizabeth took like 600 photos at Versailles alone!


Another Lion I Love

We did not visit the gardens or other buildings on the complex. My feet were sore and we also wanted to visit Rouen the same day.

On the way out, we stopped for a selfie.

On the way back to the train station, I bought a postcard of the Hall of Mirrors, without crowds of tourists pictured, just for me. It was much too crowded for an amazing photo in real life, at least not on a weekend day.

When we arrived back in the city, we knew which street we wanted to stop at for a light lunch, in the lovely Saint-Germain area. Elizabeth got a gyro which was good and she informed me it was a better value here than at home. I got a slice of pizza margherita next door. We sat down and ate in front of Notre Dame. I convinced Elizabeth to backtrack and get gelato at Amorino. Not a huge fan of ice cream normally, she loved it! I've converted her, but then again, turning someone onto gelato is the easiest thing in the world.

Elizabeth's Gelato from Amorino

Anyway, I chose a small cup with three flavors: chocolate, chocolate with hazelnut and stracciatella (which is cream with chocolate bits). It was delicious.

Me Enjoying Gelato

We took the metro and tried to find the transfer to the train station. The arrows posted made us walk in circles, up and down stairs! I suppose we looked lost because two guys asked us if we needed help. They gave us directions to the train station.

Finally, we made it on a regional train to Rouen. It was a quick trip and entirely lovely. We walked straight out of the station to the city center with several attractions. My favorite was a large astronomical clock, the Gros Horloge ("Big Clock"). There were two sides over an arch. The timepiece was gilded with dark blue and red.



Gros Horloge ("Big Clock")

The Other Side

I even purchased a postcard of it, along with one of Joan of Arc, who was burned at the stake in town, to send to my family (as an inside joke). I was delighted to see the restaurant where Julia Child dined on that well-prepared fish and fell in love with French cuisine, La Couronne.



It was one of the centuries-old half-timbered buildings. Many of these facades together make several areas of Rouen feel very quaint. I feel like it's a Northern European influence. Located in Normandy, it is northern France.

Rouen

Across the square of La Couronne is the modern church of Joan of Arc. It is low and wavy, very different. We wandered around, it seemed that there was a church on every corner. I noticed the gargoyles more and thought a small sculpture of one would make a fun gift for my godson. Unfortunately, part of the Western portal of Notre Dame was under cover, in restoration. This was the facade that Monet painted over and over, each time in a different light. We viewed three paintings of this subject at the Orsay. It was nice walking around, the sun was shining and it was cool. The shops were closed since it was Sunday, a day of rest. (Imagine that!)

A Closed Tea Shop in Rouen

Tea Shop's Balcony Decoration

We started to head back to the train station and passed some pink-flowering trees on the way. Hardly anything was in bloom when we left the US and it was nice to experience spring a bit earlier. 

We bought return train tickets to Paris. I stamped them in a machine next to the track, just like in Italy. It was a two-level train and we chose seats on the upper level. I occupied a window seat. The Seine, mountains and towns of apartment buildings were out the window.

When we got back into the city, we decided to go out to dinner in the Marais, in order to experience another neighborhood (3rd and 4th arrondissements). We chose a restaurant called Little Italy which I had researched before the trip. I ordered rigatoni arrabbiata with Chianti.

A hearty dinner of pasta after a long day of two day trips. Perfetto!

Rigatoni Arrabbiata

I also had limoncello as a digestivo! I try not to overspend on extras normally but I was on vacation and decided to order it. I remember telling Elizabeth that I might dance back to the hotel.

Limoncello

Please come back next Friday for my recap of Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

I have been asked if I liked Paris better than Italy. Nope. I remain your italiagal. It was odd being in a place so similar to Italy and it not be. I kept talking about Italy, comparing. Someone told me that Italy has my soul. It relentlessly lures me back. I cannot get enough. Back from my trip, even though I think I need to experience Paris at least twice, it feels like I'm keeping a big secret. I've seen the beauty of Paris.



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