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!” 🙂

Paris Part 2: Stinky Cheese Edition

(Travel recaps, continued!  I’m almost done, I swear).

On Thursday morning, we got up and took the 40 minute train ride to Versailles, where Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette and probably lots of other people lived in the 1700’s.  It was huge, opulent, and crowded as all get out.  Prime elbow-sticking-out time, I tell you.  The line was long but moved quickly, and the cost to enter was included in our museum passes.

We all grabbed audio tour walkie talkies, which became irrelevant once we were trapped inside the hall of mirrors with 8,000 of our closest friends.  The hall of mirrors was pretty striking, and included – you guessed it – a shit ton of mirrors.

And of course, Marie Antoinette’s famous bedroom (this is one of those pictures where you keep moving, stick your camera up in the air, and hope for the best).  I haven’t seen the Sophia Coppola movie yet, but it’s on the Netflix queue for the next time hubs goes out of town, yessssss.

We went out the back of the palace to the gardens that go on for miles and miles and miles…I wonder if Bon Iver has been there.

The back of the palace itself is not too shabby either, I mean, if you’re into that sort of thing.

There was a LOT of ground to explore, so we made our way back towards what we thought included the farm area that M.A. used to use as her getaway, but I guess we got lost/tired/hungry and never got to any of these places.  But they look fun I guess.

We took the train back to Paris around the midday point, and all of us decided that it would be nice to have some time away from the group. First, we headed to the apartment to regroup, where I finally accepted the fact that the small wheel of seemingly harmless Camembert cheese I bought the day before was making our apartment uninhabitable with its odor.  Cammie had to go.

Sorry again, everyone.

Hubs and I then went off on our own to explore Notre Dame (he is Catholic, after all).  Honestly, compared to the various churches we visited in Salzburg, the inside of Notre Dame was pretty underwhelming.  But the outside was ridiculous.

Here is Notre Dame’s badonkadonk:

I have photos of the inside, but to its credit, Notre Dame is massive and my photos are limited in scope, so you’d probably get a better idea of its structure if you google imaged it.  I will give them a shout out for being hip with the times though, because they had TVs for people who had to sit behind the pillars.  So modern of them.

Our museum pass included entry to the top of Notre Dame, but, predictably, that line was also crazy long, and the guy behind us, in what I’ll assume was an attempt to shorten said line, was clearing out his sinuses in a way that I wouldn’t believe unless I had heard it myself.  So.  Freaking.  Disgusting.  So we bailed in favor of wine and crepes, which I forgot to document, since we were alcohol-famished.

With only a handful of minutes left on our 2-day museum pass, we milked it for every last penny and went to the Pantheon.

While entering, the guy at the door recognized us as Americans (I can’t imagine how), and informed us that the original version of the Statue of Liberty was downstairs in the crypt, but that we only had 15 minutes to find it.

We passed a giant pendulum before heading down a creepy winding staircase, then literally jogged around the crypt, looking for a statue that we never found.  We did find the graves of Marie and Pierre Curie, Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Victor Hugo, and dozens of others, but I didn’t take any pictures, out of respect/time.  Although now that I read the Wikipedia page on it, I’m realizing that a lot of them are buried without their hearts, and some of them were just hearts in urns…this disturbs me.

Hubs and I exited the Pantheon, then trudged through the rain towards home, I mean the Eiffel Tower.

Once home, we re-accepted the others into our tree of trust, and headed out for a most fantastic dinner at Cafe du Marche, which was 2 blocks from our apartment.  The owner keeps the entrees cheap enough for the locals to eat there nightly, so for only €10, you can get roasted duck, truffle cream pasta (which changed my life), and about a dozen other glorious things.  Plus crazy strong mojitos and a waiter with a crazy strong personality (in a good way).

Dessert was your standard life-changing assortment of creme brulee and cannolis.  We may have ordered more dessert than there were people at our table.

We headed from dinner back out to the Eiffel Tower to watch it light up, as it does on the hour every night.  It was so great to be so close to the tower that we could easily visit it in the evenings.  Although it’s not easy to photograph.  I did my best.

Next up: Jean Claude van Damme’s homeland, aka Brussels.  Stay tuned!

Paris Part 1: Ooh La La

Back to travel recapping, which, I gotta be honest, even I am getting a little bit sick of.  Shall we get this over with?

Our first full day in Paris (Tuesday) began with a trip to the Louvre in the morning, in an attempt to beat the crazy tour group crowds to see the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, etc. etc. and so forth.  In retrospect, I don’t think it matters how early you get to anything in Paris: tour groups are there before you, guaranteed (sidenote: I always spell “guaranteed” wrong on the first try.  Always).

I can’t emphasize enough how motherclucking ginormous the Louvre is.  There are four floors, and I feel like each wing is multiple football fields long, with weird winding staircases throughout that make you confused and weepy and wishing you had just left the Louvre to the Da Vinci Code instead.  Tom Hanks made it to the Mona Lisa in record freaking time in that movie.  I don’t buy it.

Speaking of the Mona Lisa, here she is, surrounded by tour groups.  The number of photos I have of famous attractions in Paris is limited to how many times I was willing to stick my elbows out and fight for a front row view, which is to say, not many.

I left that tourist’s scalp in the photo, for authenticity’s sake.  The Mona Lisa is not large, but not postcard-sized, which I had been lead to believe that it was.  The astonishing thing is that on the wall opposite the Mona Lisa is The Wedding at Cana, which is 21 feet tall and 33 feet wide.  It’s ridiculous.

We wove our way through hundreds of other Renaissance-era paintings, that look as vivid today as they probably did in the 1500’s.  Nothing looked run down or aged.  Art preservation is fascinating.

After getting lost in the Egyptian wing, having a minor panic attack, and finally finding our way to Very Important Piece Of Art #2, the Venus de Milo, it was elbows out time again.

Victory is mine.

We spent some time wandering through Napoleon’s apartments before leaving the Louvre and heading to the Musée d’Orsay, which I have no pictures of whatsoever because photography is not allowed inside of it.  But we did see a lot of Van Gogh, Degas, Monet, Renoir, Cesanne…I could go on.  I really, really loved the Orsay.  Maybe because it was smaller, less crowded, and more logically laid out than the Louvre OH SNAP!

{not my photo, FYI}

We implemented a hard and fast rule while visiting Paris: a mandatory bottle of wine every 4 hours.  This was essential to our survival, as it kept us (me) from trying to do too much at once, and also, we were all more pleasant when seated and boozy.  Additionally, Bordeaux is super cheap and tasty in Paris, so if you go there, drink it up!  I miss it already.

We went back to the Louvre in the evening, because our museum pass allowed it and our apartment guide told us that it is open late on certain nights of the week.  We leisurely walked through some of the more obscure corridors, hunted for particularly suggestive paintings that the boys wanted to view, and finally bid the Louvre adieu once they kicked us out.

It was my brilliant idea to walk down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées from the Louvre to the Arc de Triomphe (it’s possible that we missed a wine break, which is where I became disoriented).  I know now that these two sites are more than 2 miles apart, which is not a desirable distance to cover after wandering through museums all day.  And can I just say, as glamorous as the Champs-Élysées is portrayed to be in movies and such, it’s just a busy street full of H&Ms and Disney Stores…it was like an outdoor shopping mall.  Maybe I was just too tired to appreciate it.  But it was exhausting.

We tried our hardest to find a legitimate cafe where we could eat dinner, but ended up heading to McDonald’s, relieved to be off of our feet with food in front of us.  Foreign fast food is so interesting to me, and Mickey D’s Paris did not disappoint.  They have a whole separate dessert bar inside, with good little macarons and such.  So fancy.

Hubs had the McBaguette, which it pretty much what you see above.  I don’t know if it was any better than a regular burger, but according to him, it hit the spot just fine.  Also to note: McDonald’s fries taste the same pretty much everywhere.

For some reason, about 1,000 cop cars drove down the Champs-Élysées with their sirens blaring while we watched from the 2nd floor of McDonald’s in astonishment.  Maybe it was an impromptu police parade, or maybe it had something to do with the presidential election that was going on at the time.  I guess we’ll never know.

We finally made it to the Arc de Triomphe, took a quick gander, then wisely jumped on the metro and headed back to homebase.

I want to be brief enough not to bore you, but also lengthy enough that I go over everything I want to look back and remember, so I’m going to cut myself off here rather than squeeze another day in Paris into this post.  As a preview, Thursday involved Versailles, stinky cheese, Notre Dame, and devils.  You’ve been warned.