Lovely Paris in November (Part 3)

January 22, 2015 at 4:43 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Day 6

It’s good to be the King! Today we spent the whole day at Versailles, the famed palace of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

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Iit was actually the brain-child of Louis XIV, so three kings claimed it as a residence before the bourgeoisie stormed the gates. We toured all of the apartments, marveling at the size and grandeur of the rooms, the ornate furniture and paintings, and the incredible opulence this home provided. Back in St. Denis I felt a pang of sorrow for the unfortunate royal duo…now I was thinking, “Off with their heads!” I mean, seriously, who needs all this stuff? We ended our tour of the chateau in the grand Hall of Mirrors, decked out in gold and, your guessed it, tons of mirrors. We stopped for a selfie. And to admire this adorable gold baby’s butt. Lookit the little dimples! Awwwwww!DSC_0147

Then we spent hours wandering the grounds. We picked the wrong time of year for fountains and flowers – all the statues were covered, the fountains were off, and the flowers were dead. But you still got a sense of the expansive space. We certainly did, at least. Trams are for sissies!

We checked out the Grand Trianon and the Petit Trainon, which were essentially smaller estates for guests and relatives. No less ridiculously opulent. Then we got a little, erm, lost on the way to Marie Antoinette’s Estate. Some other tourists had stopped to ask us for directions earlier, so I know we weren’t the only ones! We had a map and we still lost our way. Who needs this much land for their house?! Off with their heads, I tell ya!

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Finally we made it! Marie Antoinette wasn’t particularly fond of her bizarre hubby, so she spent a lot of her time on her own part of the grounds with her ladies. She had all of these little houses built, sort of like play houses for a very rich, spoiled child.

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Day 7

We slept in until 10:30, a first in 6 years! Not feeling terribly refreshed, we spent an adventurous morning in a French pharmacy trying to procure more cold medicine. They had nothing I could take, and only a powder that James could mix to help with his cough. Only one more day until we headed back for the States, so it had to suffice.

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Of course we couldn’t leave without some souvenirs, this one being the cutest. We got some things for my parents, as well, for watching our precocious munchkin all week while we had ourselves a little babymoon.

We popped into the Crypt at Notre Dame, which had been closed the day we climbed the tower. It detailed all of the history of the Ile De La Cite, dating back to roman times. All very fascinating. 

DSC_0178We spent the rest of the afternoon touring Chateau Vincennes, a medieval castle where Charles V ruled in the 1300s. We pretty much had the place to ourselves, and after all of the opulence of Versailles, it was a nice change of pace to see a more Spartan, utilitarian castle. Seems all that inbreeding started to go to their heads around the 1600s.

Up a flight of stairs and we encountered Charles V’s war room, a stately, quite small room where he planned his battles for the Hundred Years War. A docent inside handed us an iPad, and as we swung it around the room we could see how it had been decorated back in the day. Gotta love technology!

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Then it was across the bridge and into the castle, the only entrance into the fortress. Most of the adornments had been stripped away, but you could still imagine it as a cold, yet spacious residence.

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On the grounds was a chapel with, you guessed it, more stained glass. This was the first sunny day in Paris since we’d arrived on that unusually warm Sunday, so the photos turned out airy and bright for once.

We were too tired and run down to attempt to tour the Arc d’Triomphe, so instead we headed to McDonald’s for dinner, sort of a tradition we have when we travel to Europe. I couldn’t leave without trying a McRoyale with Cheese, like Vince Vega talks about in Pulp Fiction! I should have stuck with my gut – upon perusing the menu I opted for a new sandwich instead, something called L’M, which wasn’t all that good. But, really, when is McDonald’s ever all that good, even in a foreign country? Still, we had to try it.

The next morning we took a dark, foggy shuttle ride to the airport, and while our driver did various pick-ups around town, we passed right by the Arc d’Triomphe. So now we could cross that off our list!

The week before we left, and all while we were in Paris, I was reading My Life in France by Julia Child, which I found utterly delightful. I’d even gone so far as to look up her and her husband’s first apartment on my google maps app, but we didn’t get a chance to see it while we were there. Maybe next time. I’m not much of a cook, but what I found most interesting about Ms. Child was her willingness to whole-heartedly embrace her surroundings. She and her husband lived in France, Germany, and Norway, and each time she would take the time to learn the language, shop the local markets and cook the local cuisine, and see all the sights. I hope I’ll do the same if James gets one of these jobs in Europe.

The plane ride home was almost as bad as the ride up with my continuing cold, and I’m sure it was worse for James, who was in steady decline. So while we had a wonderful time, we were both ready to be home, sleep in our own bed, and give lots of hugs and kisses to our boy.

Lovely Paris in November (Part Deux)

January 15, 2015 at 1:18 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Day 4

I’d sampled some hot chocolate at the dessert shop near our hotel, but I wanted to try the really authentic French hot chocolate I’d heard so much about, so we headed to Café Flore for a light breakfast. The café is known for its superb hot chocolate…and its lousy service. Viva la France! The hot chocolate was indeed good, like drinking a Hershey bar, and what I thought was an expensive, paltry cup was in fact just enough. When we finally got our snooty waiter’s attention to order food, we asked for croissants, which he said they were out of, then promptly walked away. Getting his attention again, we settled for buttered toast. A whopping 16 Euros for toast and two teacups of hot chocolate!

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IMG_3311Then we were off to the Louvre for the day! The place is so big and overwhelming, we decided to hit the highlights and points of our particular interest first. We started with the ancient stuff, saw the Venice de Milo and some very cool Babylonian sphinxes. We ambled around the marble French sculpture gallery and got scolded by a docent for putting our feet up on the benches. Stupid Americans! Of course we had to see the Mona Lisa, which unsurprisingly drew a large crowd. The painting itself was a bit underwhelming, and it had me contemplating what it is about a painting that makes it priceless? We’d passed hundreds of paintings from the same era, and they were all equally interesting and beautiful. In particular we liked Eugene Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People (1830).  IMG_3318

For a change of pace we took a tour of Napoleon III’s apartments, which were actually located in the Louvre when he ruled in the 1850s. But I think my favorite came at the end of our long, long museum day: the medieval foundation of the original castle that still stands in the depths of the sub-basement. I love this archeological stuff, seeing how history unfolds in the layers of a building.

Suffering from art overload, we headed out for an evening stroll. It had finally stopped raining, so the streets were wet and glistening, reflecting light and adding beauty. The pyramid at the Louvre was all lit up, and behind us we could see the Eiffel tower all lit up as well. We popped by Notre Dame to see it all lit up for Christmas. A splendid way to end our day.

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For the new baby’s room, no?

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Discovering French cuisine in the museum cafeteria. The Bolognaise wasn’t too bad (tomato and cilatro, I guess?), but the chicken flavored ones I could have done without.

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What a sight!

Day 5

We started the morning with the best French street food ever: crepes. How had I been there five days without trying these! I had mine with Nutella, and they were to die for! After that little pick-me-up for my worsening cold, we boarded the train for a long ride to the Basilica St. Denis. The weather remained damp and dreary, but it set the tone for touring such an ancient Gothic cathedral. No heat that we could detect inside, so we left our coats, hats and scarves on as we toured the chapel.

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St. Denis is where most of the famous royalty is buried. We saw a lot of famous tombs from the Clovis and Bourbon periods. And, of course, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, perhaps the most famous tombs of all. We took a moment to imagine the horror they must have gone through during their untimely demise. Fascinating, and sad.

Our next stop took us someplace a little more modern: Sacre-Coeur.

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Up on the tallest hill in Paris, I took one look at the 300 stairs and said, “Hell, no!” My calves had JUST started to recover from our misadventure at Notre Dame, so I insisted we take the funicular to the top. I also turned down the chance to climb to the top of the dome. Enough climbing already! We spied an Irish pub on the way up, just what the doctor ordered! No beer for me, unfortunately, but the bangers and mash proved to be the perfect comfort food. And a scrumptious hot chocolate, of course, but this time less like a Hershey bar, and with whipped cream and cinnamon.

Then we took a gander through Montemartre, a lovely district full of windmills and ivy-covered apartments. We also thought it a good idea to find the Moulin Rouge, where we’d be coming back later in the evening for a show.

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Oh, the Moulin Rouge! Happy Birthday to me! I was glad we opted for the cheaper tickets without champagne. Even if I wasn’t four months pregnant, I was too sick to enjoy alcohol, even just a sip. We were a bit dubious at first – it seemed like the place was filled with American tourists, and the warm up band was playing cheesy, easy-listening stuff. But then the show started and…wow! It was a two-hour, non-stop, Vegas-style/Broadway musical extravaganza with elaborate costumes, intricate dance numbers, roller skating acrobats, clowns, pythons being wrestled in a giant water tank, Pygmy ponies, and a talking dog, almost entirely in French. And mostly topless. I was entertained to say the least. I think our favorite were the roller skating acrobat couple, who spun like mad inches from the front row. Definitely a night to remember!

Look for the third, and final, part of our trip soon!

Lovely Paris in November (Part 1)

January 14, 2015 at 10:28 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Oh, Paris, can you believe it’s been almost two months since we parted ways? Normally I’m through our vacation photos and posting all about our trip the week after we get back from vacation. But what with a nasty cold, Christmas shopping and decorating and baking, another nasty cold, Christmas morning, Liam’s birthday, and Liam’s birthday party planning, this little endeavor got shelved until further notice. And now that Liam is finally back to school after getting over yet another nasty cold (will it ever end?), I’ve finally got time to relive our trip. So, without further adieu, here’s how it all went:

Day 1

DSC_0051Seven hours on a plane with a cold while pregnant went…well, just about as you’d expect it to. We survived! And arrived to some beautiful weather, the best we’d have the whole week. After taking care of museum and train passes, checking into our hotel, and freshening up a bit, we decided it was wisest to stay awake as long as we could and take advantage of the warm, sunny late afternoon and evening. Our hotel was in the Latin Quarter, just a stone’s throw away from Notre Dame and the Seine. So we took a lovely stroll along the banks of the river, climbing down the steps and marveling at how cavalier the French are about walkway safety. Not a guard rail in sight! We wended our way to the very tip of the Ile De La Cite, the island in the middle of the Seine where you find Notre Dame, and watched kids play in the park, missing our boy already.

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DSC_0010Day 2

We awoke to dreary rain and much colder temperatures. Undeterred, we headed back to Notre Dame to get a good look at the inside. High ceilings, stained glass, wooden pews…yep, it’s a cathedral alright. Religious apathy aside, I enjoyed poking around, reading signs detailing the history and construction, and admiring the stained glass. Back outside, we noticed the line to climb the tower wasn’t too long, so what the hell? 50,000 steps later (or so it felt), my calves were burning, I was out of breath, and I was seriously questioning our sanity. Who’s idea was this? But it turns out the views from the top were quite lovely, and snapping numerous photos took my mind off the searing leg pain. Despite the dreary day, Paris from above is truly a sight to behold.

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Look at me, grinning through the pain!

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Lookit the Eiffel Tower! Let’s climb that next…it has an elevator.

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More windy stairs down, and I almost kissed the ground when we made it to the bottom. Next up, St. Chappelle and the Conciergerie! Another pretty church with even more stained glass (James can’t get enough of the stuff, insisting I take photos of it all), and what I found even more interesting, Marie Antoinette’s holding cell at the Conciergerie. Compared to the squalor that most prisoners endured, her modest room befitted her status.

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Here’s a view of the back of Notre Dame. On our way we passed a curious sight:

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DSC_0058Those are locks. Tons and tons of padlocks. They’re on several bridges along the Seine, and according to my research, they’re left by tourists to honor their romantic Parisian getaways. Apparently the French abhor the tradition, and it even causes damage to the bridges. So instead I just posed for a baby bump photo. Ugh, you can totally tell I’m sick here. But I powered through!

In lieu of wine, I decided hot chocolate would be my vice of choice, and I’d read about a tea shop nearby that had some of the best in the city. But, alas, they were closed on Mondays. Randomly. So we headed north toward the Pompidou, the modern art museum with the crazy architecture. On the way we stopped at a little café right out of Amelie. We were the only patrons, and while the guys at the bar talked football (presumably, as they were watching it, but they only spoke French), I enjoyed a croque-madame (an open-faced ham and cheese sandwich with a fried egg on top) with pomme frites while people-watching from our window seat. My first taste of actual French food! It was tame. And it was delicious! I also ordered what I thought was lemonade, but was in fact Lemonade, a fizzy, lemon-flavored French soft drink similar to Sprite, but not as sweet. A delightful and delicious surprise.

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Our next stop was the zany-looking Pompidou. All of the duct work is on the outside of the building, color-coded for your pleasure. The escalators and elevators were also along the outside of the building, and afforded more lovely views of the city from above. James has little appreciation for modern art, but he gleefully makes fun of it, so I think he still enjoyed himself. Interesting, and zany, stuff.

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Next stop, the opulent Opera House! This is where the famed Phantom of the Opera was based, and it was just as ornate as I imagined it would be. No tours of the basement canals, and unfortunately we arrived in the middle of rehearsal, so we couldn’t tour the auditorium, either. But there was still much beauty to behold. And stairs. Accursed stairs!!

Hoping to squeeze as much into our itinerary as possible, we ended the day at the Cluny, a museum dedicated to medieval artifacts. It was housed in an actual medieval building with, your guessed it, more stairs. Medieval history is more James’s territory, so I just clomped along and sat wherever I saw a cozy stone bench or chair. I’m sure it was very interesting. You can ask James all about it.

Here, more Opera House photos. Shiny.

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We ended the night at a Vietnamese restaurant near our hotel that got rave reviews on Yelp. Yelp works in Paris, yay! The food was fantastic, especially the soup, which really hit the spot for my congested head. Cold – 0. Paris – 1.

Day 3

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DSC_0099We got up extra early to stand in line at the Eiffel Tower. Back in the summer of ‘99, James says the line to go up wrapped around the base four times. Sheesh! But this time it was raining, and freezing, and we were the 12th ones in line. Sweet! We got to go right up. The elevators were fascinating, bent at an angle to follow the base. We were in for more dreary, foggy views of Paris. But it was still lots of fun. One of the highlights of our trip, for sure. We had to board another elevator to make it all the way to the top. James is normally afraid of heights, but he didn’t show it this time.

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The Arc D’Triomphe! In the foggy distance…

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I don’t know what these guys were doing, but they had harnesses and mountain-climbing gear. Yikes!

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Look at this guy, nerves of steel! At least until we made our way to the first floor. They had a glass floor you could walk on and watch the people down below. James was having NONE of that. But I did, of course.

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We would have stayed up longer, but the wind, rain, and cold were getting to us, so we headed up to the Military History museum to check out Napoleon’s tomb.

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Ugliest. Tomb. Ever.

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But the rest of the place is nice. Apparently Napoleon had an entire building dedicated to his demise. I guess he was a pretty important guy in France. Here’s the outside:

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After poking around a bit, we had to ask where the rest of the museum was. Surely this wasn’t it? And holy cow, there was more. A lot more. Swords, armor, guns, ammo, cannons, uniforms, statues of…you know who. I couldn’t resist snapping a photo of this youngster-size suit of armor…perfect for Liam, no? On the top floor we saw an exhibit of model fortresses from all around France. All very interesting.

Next stop, something a little more my pace, the Musee D’Orsay, which housed paintings and sculptures from 1848 to 1914, notably famous Impressionists like Matisse, Monet, Manet, Van Gogh, Degas…the list goes on and on. It was fantastic! Even the building was splendid, a renovated train station. I marveled at the famous works I’d only seen in text books. Very cool!

For dinner we consulted Yelp yet again, and right around the corner from our hotel was a highly-rated burger joint. Day three, and we were ready for some American food! They even had Dr. Pepper, a rare treat in Europe. The burger and fries were fantastic! In France! Ha!

Stay tuned for Part 2 of our trip…

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