Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Paris, day 1 + 2: lazy train

The fourth day of our trip was supposed to be day 1 in Paris.
We dragged our sorry little tushes out of our London apartment at an ungodly hour, to board the 5:40am Chunnel to Paris.

Luckily we had no trouble getting to the Chunnel (unless you count severely cold temperatures), and we managed to bring all our luggage with us along the way.
Once we were safely seated on the Chunnel, we breathed a huge sigh of relief.
We could sleep, and enjoy, and before we knew it (3.5 hours or so) we'd be pulling into La Ville-Lumiere! The City of Light.

Dazed and confused, I woke up to a cold and drizzly window that looked out onto grounds covered in snow.
The train was moving at about 20 miles per hour.

Knowledge of what was happening did not come quickly. The announcements were in French for some unknown reason (you'd think a train coming from England would at least have an English announcement to follow the French), the food cart was completely out of food and cups (which meant no coffee), and no one had any idea how long it would take to get to Paris.
The family sitting with us/across from us (there were 5 of them) was just as baffled as we were, and were fairly entertaining. We couldn't for the life of us tell if they were from England, or America, or somewhere else...they occasionally seemed to have accents, but then abruptly would not.
I definitely eavesdropped on all of their conversations.
I mean, we were sitting feet apart from each other, and they were the only ones in our section that spoke English.
The one sitting with us was named James. He sat facing us, having the two available seats to himself, apart from his family across the aisle. He was reading A Memory of Light, the last book in Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. I was currently reading book 3 on my Kindle, and several times was tempted to say something to him regarding our shared interest.
Dusty and I both slept almost the entire time. Which was pretty remarkable, seeing as the delay was six hours. 
But anyway, our constant sleeping and my innate awkwardness kept me from talking to James.
It was a weird thing, because I felt like I knew this family through the 9ish hours we spent together.
Dusty and I had a strange urge to yell, "Bye James!" when we left the train.
But alas, we'll never see them again. Life is so odd sometimes, how we're often able to get little snippets of other people's lives, and even be impacted by them, even though not a single word is spoken.

Once we pulled all of our luggage through the sopping wet, slushy concrete and into the covered train station we found a currency exchange, and then grabbed something, anything, to eat at a nearby little cart.
We walked around until we found the underground that would take us to our apartment metro stop, "Passy".
And by George, we made it.

Our very first view when we emerged was the Eiffel Tower in the distance, the snow falling softly around us.
Even though we were cold and wet and laden with luggage, we were enchanted.

The walk to our apartment from the Passy stop is a pretty short one. It's also lovely.
I absolutely loved the architecture all throughout Paris. The Parisian rooftops, the balconies.
Our apartment was up on the 7th floor:

Our apartment was even better than I had hoped for.
It was clean and quirky and really open, with lots of natural light and plenty of warmth, despite the freezing weather! It was such a relief to walk in and throw all of our stuff down, taking off our sodden coats and scarves.
The view from the balcony was amazing. Especially in all the snow, once we had dried off and felt warm and cozy, looking out onto the balcony was magical.
Henry (the owner of the apartment) also had a lot of interesting art and decor, as well as an impressive collection of books.

From the little window in the bathroom, you could barely glimpse the tip of the Eiffel Tower.
It was so wonderful how quickly we felt at home in this little apartment.
We were both so happy! It was so affordable, half the price of nearby hotels, at least. And it was perfect.

We felt a little bummed that our entire first day had been wasted.
We didn't really have the time to do anything, and after we had settled into our hotel a bit, it started snowing again and seemed pretty miserable out.
We decided to stay around the area, and walk along our neighborhood to find somewhere to eat.
We wanted something somewhat Parisian, to get our feet wet and get us ready for the next few days of Paris life!

A little worse for wear.
We decided on a large cafe restaurant that looked warm and inviting.

The man next to us had a plate of something that looked pretty tasty, so Dusty did a, "I'll have what he's having!"
Well, it turned out, he was having a burger.
Whoops! Apparently he had taken the bread off, and poured some sauce on it or something...but basically, he made it look a lot more interesting than it was. Dusty was a little embarrassed that his first Paris meal was a burger and fries.
Oh well!

I decided on a Croque Madame, which may be my new favorite thing in the world.
I love sunny-side-up eggs, and I've finally brought Dusty around to the yolk side, as well. 
So this delightful sandwich is definitely a yay! for me. 

Afterward we had some coffee and Nutella crepes, which were delightful.
But I knew full well that the best crepes would be waiting for us in little vendor shops along the Seine.
But this was a start. :)

We went to bed happy that night, because even the worst hiccups can often be a blessing in disguise.
The next day we would be well on our way to being completely rested and ready for touring Paris!
All that sleep on the train provided us with some much-needed relaxation after three awesome days around London.

Day 2 in Paris dawned beautiful and sunny.

I leaned up in bed, and this was my view:

We had pretty much gathered our bearings the night before, so once we got ready and were as bundled up as we could manage, we headed out the door!

When we reached the end of the sky-high apartment buildings, we rounded the corner in full view of a snow-covered park and the Eiffel Tower gleaming across the water.

Literally took our breath away! And then produced a squeal of delight.

I'm sure you've prepared yourself for plenty of Eiffel pictures, and I won't hesitate to deliver.
I'm not sure what it is about the giant metal structure that produces such awe and giddiness, but it really is magnificent. Every time it would appear throughout our sight-seeing, we'd get excited, and it would reiterate the crazy notion that we were actually spending our week in Paris, France.

I know it seems stupid for me to be wearing a dress, but my outfit was actually a turtle neck, a buttoned-up cardigan, tights, jeans, the dress, coat, scarf, socks and boots and gloves.
And I was still freezing. 
But having the long dress at least contributed another layer against the wind!

As with London, there were a ton of pictures floating around in my head from some of my favorite movies that featured Paris.
Obviously Midnight in Paris was at the top of the list. I absolutely love that movie. The music, the scenery, the magic. It was instantly a favorite of mine.
I really wanted to find the bridge that the movie ends on, when Owen Wilson is walking along and it starts to rain.

Ironically, this is pretty much the first place we walked to.
Although we had no idea at the time!
I only just realized it as I was sorting through our pictures.
Totally embarrassing.

We also didn't realized until later that this gold-domed structure was Napoleon's Tomb, which my dad had said to definitely try and go see!
Which, in case you're dying of suspense, we did get to go see. 
But not today.

We kept walking,
Oh, this bridge is cool. Look at those gold statues and cool lanterns. 
Hey, while we're here, I really wanna try and find that bridge from Midnight in Paris, too.

National Assembly

One of my favorite parts about walking around Paris was the bridge views.
We'd stop halfway across every bridge and take in the layered picture, all the rooftops against one another fading into the backdrop.
Sometimes the Eiffel Tower would be there, or some other majestic spire or cathedral.

A great side view of the Midnight in Paris bridge.
Otherwise known as Pont Alexandre III.

 We wandered across the way to the Rue de Rivoli (constantly referred to as "Ravioli" by Dustin).

We caught our first distant glimpse of the Arche de Triomphe while crossing the street!

The Rue de Rivoli is quite famous for its many shops. It's a great place to walk along to grab some souvenirs; it's also a popular spot for people to ask you for money.
We found several groups of these...gypsies? Not sure what to call them, but they all had their own tricks.
The Rue de Rivoli is where we first met the Children. Young people varying in ages from 10-16 would stumble up to you, kissing their hands and then touching you, saying various words in English like "bless you" and "thank you" over and over, touching their ears (the claimed cause was for deaf children), while putting a clipboard in your face with a pen and begging for your signature.
You had to fill out your name, area of Paris, yadda yadda and then finally, your monetary donation.
It was a rather awkward predicament, but we finally managed to recognize these groups and avoid them if it all possible.

We were pretty much starving at this point, so we popped into a little cafe restaurant for some coffee and croissants.
This meal was 18 euro... (approximately $23).

Needless to say, we were determined to find a better system for food in Paris.

Joan of Arc

Rue de Rivoli runs along the North wing of the Louvre, so without even realizing it (apparently this happened to us a lot) we began to walk alongside the famous museum. 
The Louvre!

And Praise the Lord, there was a Starbucks alongside the Louvre as well.

 Funnily enough, we began to realize that wherever (and I really mean every single time) there was a Starbucks, there was also a McDonald's. We began to enjoy these little American-friendly sightings.
Starbucks! Where's the Mc...there it is!

We ordered our coffee, and even though they had no idea what "cream" meant (??) the lattes were hot and delicious.
They also apparently were unfamiliar with the name "Dustin" because they called out the name Joo-stahn!

Coffee in hand, we continued our tour.
The Louvre stretched out on either side of us, left to right.

As we crossed the street and continued past the Louvre, we eventually stumbled upon our first crepe stand!

Dusty got banana and Nutella, and I got the Grand Marnier - oohhh myyyy goooosh. 
It's a freshly made crepe cooked with Grand Marnier and sprinkled with sugar.
It may be my favorite thing in the world.

Town Hall of the 1st Arrondissement
Saint Germain

Our first view of the Notre Dame was a little bit strange.
There was a giant, odd-looking display out front that we quickly realized was in honor of celebrating 850 YEARS of existence.
850. Years. I mean. That's just. Really hard to imagine.
Being a part of such a fast-paced society and even just as an American, 850 years is something quite extraordinary.
Despite the accomplishment, this giant structure blocked most of the church from view until you were right in front of it (or to the side.) It was very frustrating.

There were also lots of doves which was fun.
(See the weird structure? It even had bleachers in the sit and cheer on Notre Dame?)

All in all, Notre Dame was everything I had hoped.
It was exquisite, detailed, and so incredibly historical.
While I would say it's pretty empty of religious sentiment (going inside is like walking into an empty egg-shell...the residue of true content is there, but the yolk and innards has been spilled out), it was still moving.


That's pretty incredible.
Dusty bought me The Hunchback of Notre Dame for Easter, because I was filled with a newfound desire to watch it after we got back from our trip.
I hadn't seen it since I was little, and even though a lot of it is just as creepy and disturbing as I remember, I absolutely loved experiencing the cartoon Notre Dame once more.
It's pretty amazing the amount of detail they can achieve. Especially in the beginning, with all of the carved faces staring down Frollo for his sin...
Anyway. Enough Disney.

Walking inside...

Once we were done touring the inside, we walked around the entire structure to see it from all angles.
While the front view is definitely the famous one, the entire structure is rather striking.
The gargoyles had frosty icicles dripping from them.

This view is also featured in Midnight in Paris, when Gil is having the journal translated,
(if that means anything to you).

The dark spire especially was really amazing. Very gothic, very dangerous looking.
We were able to get a closer look at it a few days later, when we climbed to the top of Notre Dame. Quasimodo would have been proud, even though we used the stairs rather than monkey-swinging up there. But that's for another day.

There was something extremely important waiting for me on the other side of the river - I had spotted it earlier, but tried to contain my excitement and pay attention to the grand Notre Dame. One thing at a time!

Right across the river from the Notre Dame is the rather famous Shakespeare & Company bookstore.
It has a fascinating history, and has been the one point of Paris that has been in my mind for years now.
I don't even remember how I came across it (Facebook? Pinterest? Google?) but in my daydreams about travel, I stumbled upon the magical Shakespeare & Company that hosted great writers in the upstairs bedrooms for weeks at a time...writers such as Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway, and James Joyce.
It was the most romantic notion, writers gathering to stay in a musty bookstore, all sharing a leaky bathroom and living on nothing but poetry for weeks at a time while they found themselves.
The original bookstore closed down in the 40's during the German occupation of Paris, and the one there now was renamed Shakespeare & Company in tribute to Sylvia Beach, the original owner, and her magnificent store.
It was another little spot featured in Midnight in Paris, as well.

We went inside in search of the perfect book.
I had to buy one to commemorate our time here - while it seemed like buying something Parisian, or perhaps Hemingway, would seem more accurate, I couldn't help but look around for Shakespeare.

While there were no pictures allowed, you won't be surprised to find we took some anyway.
But only upstairs, where there were no crowds and we wouldn't be getting in anyone's way.

The downstairs was packed wall to wall, floor to ceiling, with books. It was amazing.
The upstairs was a little bit more spacious, with creative little nooks for reading and writing.
They even had a piano tucked in one corner.

Through this doorway, there was a little cubby to the left where you could sit on a small little chair and read. 

I ducked in and sat, and this is what I saw:
Hundreds, even thousands, of little notes pinned and taped all over the walls. There were journals filled to the brim as well. All notes to Shakespeare and Company. Some to thank the bookstore for moments of silence and contemplation - some simply quoting works of literature or writing love notes that would never be seen by the one they admired. Some scribbled, some ripped, some thoughtful, others nonsense.
It was overwhelming to see them all, so cozily tucked away in their secret hiding place.

It was one of the loveliest moments in my heart's bookstore.

After we explored the main bookstore, I was still undecided about what book I should buy.
So we popped over to the antique bookstore right next door to check those out!

Honestly, it was breathtaking.
They had first editions of Jane Austen, Victor Hugo, Shakespeare, Tolkien, Hemingway, you name it!!
I had to forcibly stop myself from drooling and looking like an idiot with all my American "ohmygawd!"s.

Dusty and I stumbled across a pile of small red-leather bound Shakespeare plays.
After looking at the price tag and realizing they were much cheaper, actually affordable for us, our fate was sealed. We were going to own an antique copy of a Shakespeare play from Shakespeare and Company!
After a little bit of thinking (and eventually looking it up on her computer), the librarian informed us that my copy of The Merry Wives of Windsor (holler out to the Queen of England!) was from 1898.

The view of Notre Dame from Shakespeare and Company.

Happy and giddy as a caveman with the invention of fire, we headed off into the chilly streets of Paris for more adventuring.

As we walked, we decided it would be a good time to travel over to Montmarte.
We knew we wanted to go there, but didn't have a set time for it, so we decided to go right then and there.

Montmarte is a pretty cool area, and the Sacre Coeur basilica is quite stunning.
Kinda like Agrabah.

Okay maybe not exactly, but pretty close.

The metro stop emerged pretty much right around the base of the hill on which Sacre Coeur sits.

I can show you the world...

The only down side is that you have to walk all the way up this hill, and there are lingering salesman at the base of it, ready to swarm you before you make your ascent.
I've heard of horror stories where the men approach you, and one places a bracelet on your wrist while the other man robs you.
Not a pretty picture...the advice was to walk as quickly as possible to the stairs, yelling "no!" over and over if need be, while keeping your hands firmly in your pockets.

I never felt all that scared; there were plenty of people around and we managed not to get cornered by anyone. I think the snowy weather helped, as there weren't a ton of people trying to sell us things as we walked by.

Overall, I'd still dub it a "must-see" of Paris. The views are incredible, and the basilica is truly gorgeous.

The inside of the basilica was another no-picture zone.

Here are our pictures:

Seriously amazing.
All of the details and the extravagance was really touching. It was hard to look away.
We sat in the center for a while, seated in the pews and staring up at the ceiling.

Once we had taken a while to enjoy the place, we decided to make our way back down the hill. Our plan was to find some food, and maybe head over to find Moulin Rouge - literally as far opposite of the Sacre Coeur atmosphere as possible.

As much fun as the movie may be, I can quite confidently say that I would have been just as happy if we had skipped seeing the Moulin Rouge in person.

It wasn't really that exciting...and the surrounding shops and "shows" and even dirty art galleries (is that a thing?) were enough to make me go running in the opposite direction.
We walked down the street to find our way back to a little boulangerie we wanted to go to, and I thought I was going to be engulfed by the flames of awkwardness.
I couldn't look anyone else in the eye, because I was judging them for being there, while also knowing I was there, too. It was weird.

Anyway...we made our way back to the boulangerie, and could forget about all the strangeness and enjoy the fresh scents of baking bread.

If you go to Montmarte ever, you must pop into Coquelicot for a Croque Monsieur for lunch. It's so cute, and is really affordable. I heard they serve their coffee in big bowl mugs!
The Croque Monsieurs were by far the best we of my only regrets of this trip was arriving at Coquelicot right before they closed (so the coffee machine was already shut down, and you couldn't sit to eat, etc.), rather than going there for lunch and enjoying it.
They had so many treats and different kinds of bread and dessert and even had a little gift shop area, and then further in the back (and I think upstairs) was the cafe/eating area.

We had to eat our Croque Monsieurs cold, as we made our way back to the metro, but it was still one of my favorite things we had in Paris. Mmmmm.

We walked back through the streets of Montmarte and decided our next stop would be the Champs-Elysees to see the Arche de Triomphe.
The metro literally spits you right up in front of the Arche.
You walk up the stairs, and it's slowly revealed to you, all giant and intimidating. It was quite the effect.

The Arche was one of the things Dusty was most excited to see, but I honestly wasn't expecting it to be as great as it was. Going to the top of it became one of the best highlights of our time in Paris...but that didn't happen until later. :)

As the sun set and it started to get dark, we continued our trek down the Champs, passing by fancy stores and enjoying the eventual glow of city lights.

Even though this picture is blurry, it's one of my favorites.

You should also know that before we left for Paris, I was introduced to a few important things through my sister-in-law, whose friend had given her some great Paris tips before she went.
One of these things was Laduree, the most magical company in Paris.
Maybe not, but to me, definitely.
I quickly fell in love with them through their website while daydreaming at work, and I couldn't wait to try their macarons, particularly the Marie Antoinette and Rose flavors.
I had their original location mapped out for us to go to eventually, and completely forgot that their other location is on the Champs-Elysees.

Back to this:

So you can imagine how I squealed and screamed and freaked out when I saw this majestic structure looming in front of us on the gleaming, snow-wetted streets.

Significantly calmed down. "LADUREE!"

We walked in, and the shop portion was in front of us, while a little cozy restaurant was to the right (and continued on the second floor, up the grand staircase, although I think that's only for dinner guests). 
The section on the right is where we sat - the windows look out onto the street.

From the menu outside was had deduced that it was the most magical dessert/tea room in all the land.

Marie Antoinette Tea
Saint-Honore Rose-Framboise
Puff pastry, cream puffy pastry, light rose petal custard cream, raspberry compote,
rose-flavored Chantilly whipped cream, rose syrup fondant, raspberries

I thought I was going to die and come back as a rose.
It was the most delicious thing I'd ever had around my taste buds, and I was instantaneously obsessed with Rose forevermore.
It was such a beautiful experience, having sight-seen all day. We were tired and hot/cold (you know what I mean?), and ready to relax.

Dusty's dessert: what else? Chocolate
Don't think I don't care enough to detail his dessert...I just happened to take a picture of mine on the menu so I could remember it!

After our delectable desserts and pot of amazing tea (if everything can't be Rose flavored, I'd be ok with it being Marie Antoinette flavored. That tea was heavenly) we walked back over to the store portion to grab some macarons!

It was a little bit overwhelming, trying to choose our flavors.
They're fancy and expensive, and I'm pretty sure they're all delicious. I wish we could have tried every single one!
I think that first night we got Marie Antoinette, Rose, Raspberry, Salted Caramel, Chocolate, Coconut, Coffee, and Orange Blossom.
I was so excited to have my official Laduree gift box.

One of the cool things about this Laduree location is that it was open really late. We were there pretty late ourselves, but I think it stayed open until 12am or 1am.
Such a fun place.

We had no other plans for the day other than to make our way back home.
Luckily for us, even walking home can be absolutely incredible in Paris.

The Eiffel Tower shining its light on us at Laduree.

On our way toward the Eiffel Tower, we came across the bridge where Princess Diana died.
It was a sudden and shocking discovery, since we weren't expecting or even looking for it.
It had even slipped my mind that she had actually died in Paris.
We read some of the inscriptions, and just took a moment thinking about the sad, tragic event. It's hard to imagine what that must have been like. We barely remember the ordeal, since we were so young.
(When we got home that night, we spent a good deal of time looking up details of her life and family.)

The rest of our walk had a much less somber tone, as we spent time by the river memorizing the moments we were spending together.

I love that you can glimpse a few stars in this shot!

I think I'll always remember that first night by the Eiffel Tower - couples around us kissing, the chilly feeling of a cold night, the boats lazily sloshing by and the click of the camera as Dusty took pictures.
We just stood arm in arm, smiling ear to ear, kissing and laughing and pointing and saying, is this really happening? Babe, look around you...are we dreaming?

With the glittering of the Eiffel Tower still in our minds, we walked the last bit to our apartment and welcomed the warmth of it.
With pajamas on, Paris outside the window, and macarons for a midnight snack, I'm not sure I've ever been happier.

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