Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The City of Lights

We are home from our incredible journey to Paris where we celebrated Lizzie's 13th birthday, Christmas, New Year's and me being postop over a year.  Leading up to our trip, my prayers were focused on God keeping us healthy and safe, prayed for the flight crews to be focused on safe travels and thanksgiving for the opportunities we were about to experience.

After researching info about the Charles De Gaulle airport and how it is poorly laid out, I called Delta and arranged for a wheelchair at all ends of our flights.  One of the best decision because we were whisked away by my transports who guided us to the front of the lines at customs, passport checks and security.  It was seamless and extremely stress free.  I plan to do this again for our next international trip.

My plan was to take a valium (I have left overs from the surgery) on the 8 hour flight to help me sleep, something I've never been able to do on a plane in the past.  Shortly after taking the pill, I slipped into a comfortable sleep but was awoken about 45 minutes later by the two young women sitting behind me.  At first I thought they were singing, so I turned up the volume on  my headset to drown them out, but then I realized they were chanting in a different language.  I could clearly hear them despite wearing my headphones and when I was about to ask a flight attendant to ask them to be quiet, they stopped.  So much for my theory of sleeping on a plane.

Lizzie came down with a fever the day before we started our trip and had a bad head cold.  Fortunately, I packed plenty of meds for her to keep her symptoms under control.  The fever only lasted 3 days (day before trip, day 1 of trip and day 2 of trip); however, the head cold hung around for almost half of our trip.  She was such a trooper.

Our mission once we settled into the apartment was to find food for the next few days.  In Paris, shoppes actually close for the holidays unlike the US.  Outside our front door was a boulangerie (bread shop) where we had our first authentic croissants, pain de chocolat (chocolate bread) and baguette.  A stone's throw away was rue Poteau where all the food shoppes were located.  One of the first things we learned to ask was, "Parlez-vous Anglais?"  Do you speak English?  If a shopkeeper responded, "No," our next question was, "Parlez-vouc Espanol?"  Do you speak Spanish?  Jeremy is fluent in speaking Spanish even though he won't admit it but he's been told he is by native speakers of the language.  We had a 50/50 chance of someone understanding either language.  The few times we encountered folks who only spoke French, pointing worked out well for us when trying to communicate in restaurants.  We quickly acquired a few days worth of food and headed back to the apartment for a nap.

The weather changes quickly in Paris so we planned most of our outings when we woke up in the morning because the forecast was drastically different from the night before.  We took a bus tour through Paris which really gave us a good idea of the lay of the land so to speak.  The first time we saw the Eiffel Tower on the tour, it was a grey cloudy afternoon.  

That same evening we cruised the Seine river, the clouds went away and the Eiffel Tower sparkled at night.  It was incredible!  

An important thing to know when traveling in Paris, you must pay-to-pee in Paree!  :)  If you are not eating in a restaurant and you are out and about, you will have to pay to use a toilette.  Another thing to keep in mind is the women's bathrooms are often, not always, located in an area where you must walk past/through the men's urinals which usually have no doors.  Obviously, women did not design the toilette layout in this city.

Most everything closes for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day was like a ghost town.  We walked around our neighborhood, Montmartre, on Christmas Eve for a bit and then stayed in the apartment all day Christmas Day so Lizzie could sleep in and rest up.  Our landlord, Rolinka, stopped by to bring us some Christmas decorations to put up in the apartment.  Rolinka is a super sweet woman and we highly recommend her apartment whenever you are in the city!  It was a 2 story, 2 bedroom apartment with plenty of space, dishwasher and washing machine close to metro and shoppes.  Tell Rolinka that Doreen referred you.  ;)

Early in our trip we went 1 metro stop south to visit Sacre Coeur which is an incredible church on the highest point in Paris.  There were a couple of shoppes that we were looking for in the area too.  Prior to arriving in Paris, my research warned me about some recent scams occurring throughout Paris and we walked smack-dab into the middle of one scam that day.  We were in awe over the sight of Sacre Coeur and as we walked toward the church craning our heads upwards to stare at it, we didn't realize we walked into several packs of men who were aggressively trying to tie "friendship bracelets" onto our hands and then demand money as payment for the bracelet.  My first hint that something was wrong was hearing Jeremy say in an increasingly loud voice, "No thank you, no, let go, NO!"  Before I realized it, one of these men grabbed my wrist and pulled my hand out of my coat pocket and was getting ready to tie a string onto me.  I yelled, "NO!" which I think surprised him because he said, "Ok, ok," and he let go of me.  Lizzie was like super glue to me and we rushed past the pack of men.  What we realized afterwards was that these packs were completely surrounding all entrances up to the church, but if you walked around to the back side of the church, or on the other side of the street, no one was there to bother you.  On our way back to the metro, we saw an unfortunate woman surrounded by one of the packs who had tied a string to her thumb and wouldn't let go demanding money.  Literally, these are pieces of string with a price tag of E20+ which is $26.

Lesson #1, don't let anyone touch you much less tie something onto you or say, "Madame, you dropped your ring, you can have it back for XX euros."

Lesson #2, if someone approaches you asking if you speak English, do NOT respond, ignore them and keep walking away.

That was the only drama we experienced and I must say I was shocked that these guys actually grabbed Jeremy's arm too.

230+ steps up and 230+ steps down to get to the church.  That's me in the green coat (bottom right corner) looking up at my step-workout!

Anyhoo, I found the first store on our To-Do list (we were saving museum visiting for later in our trip): Marche St. Pierre which is a 5 story fabric shoppe.  My sole purpose was to acquire French napkins and kitchen towels.  Mission accomplished!  Nice clerks who spoke English.

The second store on the list, Chine Machine, which is a vintage clothing store.  One of the clerks is from the US so obviously spoke our language.  We discovered the cool cellar area with stone walls and some whackadoodle outfits.  It was a lot of fun as Jeremy was being silly trying on a bunch of different jackets.  Lizzie scored a killer authentic French military jacket and a cozy cardigan while I acquired an animal print scarf, leather belt from Italy and a 1950's Parisian dress (Peter Pan type collar, fitted bodice and pleated skirt).  Voila, mission accomplished x2!

We soon realized the incredible deliciousness of the baked goods at our local boulangerie, and we quickly fell into the daily breakfast of croissants and pain de chocolat and a fresh baguette for lunch or dinner.  Even though we ate two packages of the most incredible French butter during our stay, I only gained two pounds.  Walking our hineys off and climbed many, many steps everyday which helped burn off the extra calories.  Just to get from the street level of the metro down to the actual train was 122 steps one way. 

Wednesday evening we attended the ballet Don Quixote; what an incredible evening!  Thursday morning was our private food tour with Wendy Lyn an ex-pat from Panama City, FL.  Lizzie was really feeling rough that day and the weather was incredibly cold mixed with rain. We bought some delightful breads, cheeses, meats and wine during our tour.  Much to our surprise, the butcher made a slight error when we ordered a duck breast stuffed with foie gras which we planned to roast for New Year's Eve dinner.  We discovered he gave us 1.5+ pounds of foie gras instead.  Oops!  It was fabulous!  :)

Erik Kayser is the most spectacular artisan breadmaker. We learned some secrets about choosing the right baguette and discovered one of the most decadent chocolate chip cookies!  The next stop on our tour was a poissonarie, fish shop. Wendy recommended we buy a whole fish called a Bar fish and roast it at our apartment. Believe it or not, I had never cooked a whole fish before because I thought it was complicated. Boy, was I wrong!  The fishmonger cleaned the fish which is probably the step that I thought would be complicated because I didn't know someone could clean the fish for me.  I placed a couple of lemons slices in the cavity of the fish and sprinkled a little bit of herbs de Provence inside too, wrapped it in foil and baked for one hour at 180c, about 350f. VoilĂ !

Our next stop was the fromagerie owned by Laurent Dubois who holds the prestigious MOF (Meilleurs Ouvriers de France) title in cheese. This means he has the BEST cheese in all of France.  Monsieur Dubois happened to be in the shop while we were there. Wendy taught us the proper protocol for food shopping in Paris and even showed us the faux pas made by a tourist in the store. We indulged in some decadent cheeses: Irish porter infused with Guinness beer, a brie that was so incredibly soft it oozed onto the plate, another brie with black truffles, etc. 

The final stop on our tour was at the chocolatier of MOF Patrick Roger, pronounced Pah-treek Ro-jay.  Let's just say, Monsieur Roger is called the Tim Burton of chocolate. One of his projects involved traveling the world observing animals in their natural habitat and sketching the animals. He returned to France and recreated some of these animals in chocolate sculptures.  The biggest chocolate masterpiece weighs 4 tons features 20 carved hippos in a river... all chocolate and one year to create, genius!  

Friday was spent at the Louvre, lunch at Angelina's (world's most decadent chocolat chaud (it's a thick syrup of chocolate deliciousness that coats your throat and tummy), climbing to the top of Norte Dame, and climbing to the top of the Arc de Triumph at night.  Jeremy calculated I had walked more steps on Friday alone than the steps in the Empire State Building.   

 World's best chocolat chaud served in a pitcher:


Winged Victory (aka Nike) took my breath away in the Louvre:
Inside Notre Dame I sat for a bit and prayed.

We walked 422 steps to the top of Notre Dame!
Gargoyle with an attitude

Yet again, another 200+ steps one way to the top of the Arc de Triomph:
Looks like a nautilus shell
Arc de Triomph
View from the Arc rooftop

Saturday we spent at Versailles, the kings' palace; the epitome of uber-opulence!  Sunday we spent in the catacombs - HIGHLY recommend!  Despite a three hour wait in freezing temperature, it was a super fun day.   

Versailles blue skies
Versailles Golden Gate
Versailles Gardens

Me and Lizzie at Versailles
6 million people placed in the catacombs!
Descending into the catacombs
  New Year's Eve at Scare Coeur overlooking the Eiffel Tower, in the cold rain... PRICELESS!

I could go on and on (as if I haven't already) about our trip, but to wrap things up:

French food is sublime.
French men and women are quite frankly, handsome and beautiful.
10 hours on a plane is about all I can handle.
So far, this has been the trip of my lifetime.


Au revoir & Bonne Annee!

1 comment:

  1. What a trip! Jeremy told me a little about it and it sounds like he had great time also. We are planning a September trip and we're thinking the apartment is the way to go!

    Fred Peters