Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Paris - Day 5: Au Revoir

I'm not saying we're rock stars, but hopefully the previous posts indicate why, on our fifth day in Paris, we were a wee bit tired. As I've mentioned before, the weather was so absolutely sublime and uncharacteristic of this time of year that it felt criminal to spend our days indoors, namely, in museums. Will you judge us when we admit that we did not step foot in a single museum in Paris? Not the Louvre, not the Musee D'Orsay. We're rotten apples.

That being said, with museums out of the question, we were actually feeling like we'd seen a great deal of Paris, and certainly almost all marquis landmarks and attractions. We kept our last day mellow by hopping on the Metro to explore a new neighborhood, the area around where the Bastille formerly stood in the 11th Arrondissement. It's a pretty good thing that a) we didn't explore this on Day 1 and b) our suitcases (for which we were already charged an overweight fee) were already busting at the seams, because this was the spot for home decor shopping. I found the French Pier 1, a store filled entirely filled antique chairs and settees, and countless other clothing, jewelry, and shelter stores with fantastic prices. There were a number of industrial type supply stores schelling linoleum on huge spools, front doors, etc. It was like finding a lived in, mellow, quaint neighborhood version of SF's SOMA with better prices. Poo.

Daaaaave! Will stopped dead in his tracks to take this picture and it took me a few seconds to realize why.

That's what I'm talking about. Stacks of unruly chairs saying, "please, reupholster me!"

I told you they liked their ham. Or maybe just a good place for Will to pose for another picture. Anyone else notice that he started out annoyed, but eventually came around to requesting and posing for pictures?

Dream store. Green settee back there, wanna come home with me?

Food break. Their menu listed a Bloody Mary - ah, a taste of home! Alas, I didn't think about the French committment to freshness and had a little buyer's remorse when my glass of freshly squeezed, room temperature, iceless, tomato juice was set before me. Provisions of Tabasco were greatly appreciated.

We decided that the Eiffel Tower deserved a gratuitous daytime photoshoot, as well, so we meandered over after lunch to have a look in proper light.

I admire the seriousness with which the French approach the protection of their national landmarks. I think those are machine guns, right? Could they come hang out at the Haight-Ashbury intersection for a bit? I think just a day or two would do the trick.

Out of energy, we walked back to Rue Bellechasse, picked up some junk food from the corner store, and vegged out for awhile. It's moments like these that make me proud to call him mine, folks.

Having firmly appointed Ile Saint-Louis by far my favorite place in Paris, we decided to spend our last evening there. Something of note about Paris is that bars are somewhat rare. Cafes are absolutely everywhere, but so often when you sit down at one of their tables, you feel odd ordering just the glass of wine you wanted as a refresher and end up ordering a tummy-testing cheese plate you don't really want, and certainly don't need. Following a feast of eclairs, framboise tartlette, and Lay's potato chips in hot weather, all we wanted in the world was someplace to sit and have a cold glass of white wine.

Enter Les Fous de L'Ile, our new favorite place to kick back in Paris. Sleepily wandering the streets of L'Ile like the parched little wine junkies that we are, we were thrilled to peep into their windows to see not only tables but - *GASP!* a real bar! We were more delighted to see the cadre of local sixty to eighty-year old's knocking back gin and tonics at the bars at a pace that deserved applause. We had found it. And rejoiced.

Once our happy hands were wrapped around a cold wine glass, our eyes were free to wander and take in the amazingness of their decor. Pink chickens (les fous), blue chickens, chickens covered in painted bottle caps; they were everywhere, each relegated to their own little cubby on the wall. I was kind of in heaven.

We loved it so much after our two-hour leisurely stay at the bar- and the rapid influx of patrons proved its worthiness - that we decided to stay for dinner. The waiter would bring a hand-written giant framed chalkboard to each table with the menu.

Happy to have found such a great place on our last evening that we will surely visit each time we return to Paris, we walked home and enjoyed one last evening view of Notre Dame.

We undoubtedly left our hearts in Paris. What an incredible city. What we wouldn't give back to go every year. But on to Brussels!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Paris - Day 4: Let Them Eat Mont Blanc Cake

On our fourth day in Paris, we went the way of Napolean and took the city by storm. With only one more full day ahead of us, we wanted to be sure to check off some important sights and classic activities: Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomph, Notre Dame ... sort of big deals that we had not yet visited. Strategizing our plan of action, we set out to conquer the city, itineraries in hand.

Any good soldier will tell you, however, that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. We had heard from many that the best place to get our day’s ration was world-famous patisserie and tea room, Angelina. Founded in 1903 by a very serious Austrian baker, the tea room quickly became famous for its rich hot chocolate and even more so for its out-of-this-world Mont Blanc cake. Throughout its many years in business it has been frequented by Coco Chanel, visiting dignitaries, and has become the destination for just about everybody who’s anybody.

While Will went for the tamer fare of cafe au lait and a baguette, I had to order the hot chocolate and the Mont Blanc cake.

Until this past week, I had never even heard of Mont Blanc cake. I can’t even describe the texture of this incredible pastry/cake/goodness-laden-thing made from chestnuts, and possibly crack. I seriously haven’t stopped thinking about it since and will probably spend the rest of my life trying to replicate their top-secret, vault-guarded recipe at home, in between just dreaming about the real thing. I kicked myself during our entire train ride to Brussels for not picking one up on the way out of town. See what I mean about the secret ingredient maybe just being crack? I wrote an entire paragraph on this thing. Enough.

Drool-inducing goodies for sale at Angelina's store front preceding the tea room.


Moving along, we (ok, I) decided that we didn’t give Galeries Lafayette enough time given how tired we were when we first visited. Sure, at the end of the day, it’s just a mall, but it’s a darn nice mall. I wonder if the Westfield in San Francisco got its inspiration for a domed ceiling from Galeries Lafayette? Thanks to globalization, there wasn’t a whole lot I could buy there that I couldn’t buy at home, and anything else more unique was well out of price range, so I settled for a nice, reasonable grey scarf from their basic accessories section. Will guffawed at the purchase of my umpteenth scarf, but I’ve worn it nearly every day since. So there.

We made our way up Boulevard Haussmann toward a shop called La Vassailerie, recommended to me by my cousin as it sells tons of inexpensive white ware, one of my greatest weaknesses. We didn’t think we could manage getting anything home in one piece, so this was a visit simply to admire. If I lived here, I would definitely get all my dishes here. A French version of a discounted Crate & Barrel is kind of amazing.

Not coincidentally, our carefully planned route up Haussmann would eventually lead us up the Champs Elysses (check) as we approached the Arc de Triomphe (check, check). On the way, we saw a lovely little park, and a few of my favorite things.

Finally, the Arc de Triomphe. It is so much bigger in person than I ever expected!

One quick Metro ride later, we found ourselves in another “it” destination, Les Halles, site of Paris’s former main market place, now home to many unique little shops and cafes.

Also highly recommended by my cousin was a stop in La Drougerie, a smaller, cooler marriage of San Francisco’s Britex (minus the fabric) and the fabulous ImaginKnit. Jill, I’m sorry to say I more or less got thrown out of La Drougerie by a very angry Frenchman for taking a picture of their buttons.... I knew I shouldn’t have done it, but I saw the whole wall of jars and before I knew it I had snapped a shot! It’s just as well because if I had stayed, I would have bought the ridiculously cute elephant knit set pattern for babies, and it’s very likely I wouldn’t complete it ‘til all the babies I know are seventeen.

Sufficiently deflated by my Franco-scold, we sought the comfort of ham and cheese baguette sandwiches and apple pastries. All better.

I'm so jealous.

Another beautiful church nearby, St-Eustache.

But it was time to get on to the bigg-un, Notre Dame. We made our way to the massive cathedral, but found that the lines to get in were positively insane. Having seen the inside of quite a few churches already in our days here, we settled for admiring the beauty of its exterior, spires, gargoyles, and all.

Just beyond Notre Dame lies Ile St. Louis, an island  within the Siene. I instantly fell in love with this old, quaint, cute, trendy-without-pretension section of Paris. We stopped in a number of the amazing shops down Rue Saint Luis En L’Ile, including the famous ice cream shop, Berthillon, for a refresher cone of framboise and praline ice cream.

Not yet ready to let our feet cry uncle, we made our way back towards the hotel on foot through the Latin Quarter, one of the oldest parts of Paris, so named for its universities and the Latin spoken there in the Middle Ages. I loved its old, gritty, somewhat medieval quality mixed with quaint cafes, bars, and cute shops, like the famous Shakespeare & Co. Antiquarian Books. The many book-loving ladies in my life would love it.

On the Pont des Arts bridge, it is a tradition for couples to carve their names in a lock, attach it to the railings, and throw the keys in the Seine to ensure their everlasting love. Not being the superstitious type, we didn't participate, but they really were admittedly kind of sweet and a nice site.

After a quick freshen up at the hotel and another delicious dinner, it was time to go big or go home. It’s Eiffel Tower photo shoot time, folks. As many know, there was a period of about ten years when I only decorated with Paris-themed objects. Many of them have drifted off to the thrift store over time, but some I just can’t part with, like my Eiffel Tower lamp. If you saw my room ten years ago, you know what a big deal getting to see the real thing is for me. So, naturally, I forgot my camera. Fortunately, we didn’t actually make it on a train before I realized.

We can do this.

Coming out of the Metro station, I spotted it immediately, and was off at a dead sprint, Will hollering behind me.

Gratuitous Eiffel Tower shoot begins in 10, 9, ....

They had already closed to the doors to climb up, but I’d rather just stare at it from the outside anyway. I thought it was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen when it was all lit up; imagine the squealing that occurred when suddenly, at 11pm, it exploded in a burst of flashing white lights. It really was the most beautiful, joyous thing I’ve ever seen. Apparently Parisians - who frankly aren’t impressed by anything - thinks it’s a monstrosity. But I’m not Parisian.

Eventually, Will pulled me away, and we enjoyed a beautiful walk home down the right bank of the Seine. It’s not difficult to see why it’s called the City of Lights.

More pictures: