Last Day in Paris: Sacre Bleu!

Our last day in Paris (sob) started with a quick trek up to the Sacre Coeur Basilica in the Montmartre area north of the city center. Here’s how it looks on a normal sunny day:

And here’s how it looked when we saw it:

If I had to use one phrase to describe the weather on our trip, it would be schizophrainic fogpocalypse (see what I did there?).  It rained on and off for the entire trip, but that’s okay, because it allowed me to get shots of Paris like this one that a coworker complimented me on because, “You can always google a picture of Paris on a clear day…but your pictures are really depressing.”

Why thank you!

STORY TIME:

We had a lot of creepy moments during our 10 days in Europe, but probably the creepiest of all was the band of misfits that was loitering near the base of Sacre Coeur.  It goes like this:

A man walks up to you holding a string between his hands and saying “Hakuna Matata!” which, due to my experience with bums on the streets of Atlanta, immediately put me on high alert. So I put my hand on my purse and say, “No thank you.” The man proceeds to approach me with the string, saying, “No no, hakuna matata, it’s okay!” Then he GRABS MY ARM, so I yell, “NOTHANKYOUDON’TTOUCHME!” and quickly shuffle past him. There were four of us and probably 6 or 7 of the Hakunas, and we all miraculously managed to evade them.  I didn’t see it with my own eyes, because he was behind me, but I heard that hubs turned into the Hulk and practically threw them to the side, but I don’t know, I can only speculate.

It turns out that their trick is to make you think they’re going to give you a friendship bracelet of sorts, but instead they TIE YOUR FINGERS TOGETHER and refuse to untie you until you give them money.  They’re entrepreneurs at heart, after all.  Crisis averted, but lesson learned: If you hear the words “Hakuna Matata” in public, turn into the Hulk and run for your life.

We then grabbed some breakfast and wandered through the Montmartre area looking for things we never actually found, such as Van Gogh’s house.

We finally made it to Moulin Rouge, which looked nothing like it did in the movie:

After learning our lesson about trying to walk too far, we took the subway down to the shopping district so we could pick up some waaaaaay cheaper in France Longchamp bags.  We headed to Printemps, the famous department store, which has an amazing rooftop cafe where you can take pictures of the entire city.  And also shop your face off.

We took our time strolling back toward the river, passed by the Louvre and the Musee d’Orsay one last time, before catching the subway back to our ‘hood, where we picked up a last box of glorious macaroons.

We weren’t actually leaving Paris until the next morning (Sunday), but the person who checked us in and out of our rented apartment came by on Saturday to make sure we hadn’t destroyed the place.  When she asked about our dinner plans and we said we had none, she called an amazing hole-in-the-wall steak restaurant and asked for a table for four, in French.  I wanted to hug her and stroke her hair and never let her go.  We said goodbye, got gussied up, and went to eat at Robert et Louise.

The restaurant only has room for about 5 tables total, and all of the meat is served on wooden plates, while communal bowls of salad and roasted potatoes are passed around.  It was an amazing finale to an incredible trip.

The next morning, we got up and went to the Eiffel Tower one last time to try to climb at least part of it…but it was pouring rain (shocker) and about 1,000 tour buses had already beat us there.  So we took a few shots of its underbelly and bid the Eiffel Tower adieu.

We followed the advice of our host lady and took the Roissybus from the center of Paris to Charles de Gaulle airport for our flights home.  It was a hell of a lot easier than changing trains 3 times with all of our luggage.  And of course by the time we left, it was 70 and sunny across Paris.  Go figure.

Just finishing my recaps of our trip makes me sad that it’s over all over again.  It was a long and sometimes grueling but ultimately amazing trip with good food, great friends, and experiences I’m sure none of us will ever forget.

Until next time, “Bonjour!” 🙂

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Beer & Waffles: A Love Story

Here we go with another travel recap.  I feel like I can’t write about anything else until I’m done with these things, and since I’ve had at least 3 people tell me how lazy I’ve been at blogging lately, let’s just get ‘er done.

On our second-to-last full day in Europe, we headed to the Paris Gare du Nord train station to buy 4 tickets to Brussels.  Based on research we’d done online beforehand, we thought we’d be able to buy discount passes in person, but, we were SO wrong.  Buy your tickets in advance, people.  Lesson learned.

The Brussels Grand Place looked a lot like Munich’s town square, including the old churches and, just, old buildings in general.  We started our day with breakfast, which mostly included a first but definitely not last round of Belgian waffles.

Belgian waffles are different than regular old American waffles because they have chunks of sugar in them.  It’s a totally worthwhile diabetic nightmare.  If you happen to have a friend who is obsessed with perfecting their version of Belgian waffles stateside, then you should count your blessings (ahem, Greg).

One of the buildings in the square has a pretty obvious architectural flaw.  You can see that two different architects each worked on different sides of the building before meeting in the middle, though the results weren’t exactly symmetrical.

One of our first tasks of the day was to track down the Mannekin Pis, aka The Peeing Boy.  Go here to read more about it.  It’s basically a statue of a boy peeing, and it is usually clothed in one of several hundred costumes, although it was naked the day we were in Brussels.  Just our luck.

We brought back many seemingly inappropriate Peeing Boy souveniers for our friends and family.  I’ll assume that they were grateful.

We also tracked down the Jeanneke Pis, which is the female version of the above statue, which was put up by a restaurant to attract tourist traffic.  It’s at the end of a quiet alley, and is honestly kind of creepy.

On the same quiet alley, we found the Delirium Cafe, which might just be our Favorite Bar Of All Time.  It’s actually made up of multiple bars on the same block, but we headed to the basement beer bar, which holds a Guinness record for having more than 2,000 beers on the menu.  The menu is the size of a phone book.

It was dark, cool and cozy, and we got to try beers that we’ll probably never have the luxury of tasting again. I’m holding a Delirium Tremens in the photo below, which is admittedly not rare, but, when in Rome.

From Delirium we went to get the best frites I’ve ever tasted, probably because we were pretty drunk.  I’ve never power-eaten french fries like that in my life, and I hope I never do again.  Come to think of it, I don’t remember if we ate actual lunch?  Can anyone confirm?

With bellies full of frites, we caught a cab to Cantillon, a brewery in Brussels that was founded in 1900 and is still run by the original family today.  They make lambic beers (aka sour & sometimes fruity) that are spontaneously fermented by yeast in the air, rather than by yeast that is manually added directly to the beer.

There is a self-guided tour through a rickety wood building that ends with a tasting. The brewery itself is really hard to find.  We found the street address in a Rick Steves’ book, and gave that to our cabbie, and made it just fine, but if you just tell them to take you to Cantillon, you probably won’t get very far.  You can walk from Grand Place, but the neighborhood it’s in is pretty shady, so I don’t recommend it unless you have a posse.

SInce we’ve been home, we’ve had a couple of bottles of Lindeman’s lambic that is readily available here in the states, but it pales in comparison.  Cantillon is so good and tasty, so if you ever get the chance to try it, please do, or I will curse you for the rest of your days.

After Cantillon, we grabbed one more drink (of water) in the town square before heading back to the train station and catching an evening train to Paris.

Oh and I also bought this pillow in Brussels.  I have no explanation.

Europe Continued: Safety First!

On Monday, our last day in Munich, we checked out of our micro-hotel, stashed our bags, and headed out into the city to kill the last 10 hours of the German leg of our trip.  One of the items on the boys’ bucket lists was to take a tour of a German brewery (any German brewery would do), so we hit up Paulaner to see how 4-ingredient beer is made.

We got to wear really sexy reflective vests, so that we wouldn’t be lost in the underground beer tunnels.  There is beer running through those pipes right this second.

The most unsettling part of the tour was when they showed us the original barrels that were used to brew Paulaner.  See that hole at the bottom?  Somebody had to CRAWL INSIDE THE BARREL to clean it out between batches.  I’m so scared.

We received a “snack” at the end of the tour, which consisted of giant pretzels, a hunk of bologna loaf the size of my face, and MORE potato salad.  Oh plus a weißbier, which is the German version of Blue Moon (or Blue Moon is the American version of weißbier, whatever).

We met a nice Canadian couple during the tour, and by met, I mean none of us spoke German so we were addressed separately from the rest of the tour group.  The wife was French-Canadian, and made us really nervous about being outcasts in Paris when she told us that Parisians are rude to her because although she speaks fluent French, her accent is not Parisian.  Again, so scared.

After souvenir shopping, presumably eating some stuff, and  stopping at Augustiner in the evening, we finally headed to the train station to find our overnight couchette.  A couchette is a compartment on a train with beds in it.  Some have 2, some have 4, ours had 6.  Kinda like this:

The bottom bunk was so close to the middle bunk that it was impossible to sit up on it without feeling like Quasimodo (foreshadowing!).  But since we hit the lottery and had nobody sleeping in the middle two beds, we were able to slide them up (after getting scolded by the hall monitor for tinkering with them at all) and have a little sitting area.

By little sitting area, I mean knee-to-knee, face-to-face, all up in each others’ business kind of sitting area.

It was a special night.  I might be crazy, but it was actually fun.

The British man who came around to check our tickets reminded us to lock the doors, because overnight trains are breeding grounds for shady people doing shady things (not us, obviously, but all of the other shady people on the train).  It was super comforting.

Our train arrived in Paris over an hour late the next morning, so we had to rush across the city on the metro, with all of our luggage during Parisian rush hour, then run 3 blocks through the pouring rain to the apartment we rented (via homeaway.com), which was up a 5-story spiral staircase (at least it makes cool picture?).

{Note on the metro: from what we read, the cheapest way to get around the city for an abbreviated stay is to buy books of 10 tickets at a time, which will run you about €11.  Each ticket will get you in/out of the metro once.}

We settled into the apartment, which had a fully functional kitchen with a washing machine, separate toilet and shower rooms, a separate bedroom and a living room with beds for 4 people total.  It was a great place, relatively affordable, and coincidentally owned by an American couple, so if you’re interested in where it is and how to rent it, email me and I’ll be happy to share all the details with you.

Our first order of business was to see the Eiffel Tower, which was only a 5 minute walk from the apartment.  I think it hit me then that we were really in Paris, ready to eat croissants and drink Bordeaux until we were bleu dans le visage.

{I would’ve centered this shot but there are about 50 tourists on segways just outside of the frame on the left.}

We spent the rest of the day on foot, getting lost, drinking wine, finding the Louvre, Notre Dame, and Shakespeare & Company bookstore, before stumbling through (not drunkenly, but lostily) the Latin Quarter on our way back home.  You’d think we would just be able to shoot for the Eiffel Tower, but it’s not always visible, and the streets through Paris are hella windy.  Nothing is a straight shot.

We saw and did so much in Paris that it’ll be really, really ridiculously good-looking difficult to recap succinctly.  I’ll do my best to include relevant travel tips without boring you to death.

Onward!