SPring Break 2014 – Paris: Exploring a city!

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Saturday, Sunday & Monday, 24 – 26 May, 2014

Location: Paris, France

 

Saturday, 24-May

We took a train into Paris, and a “van” to our apartment.

I have to say, these two modes of transportation were, so far, the most spacious ways to travel that we’d seen – coming from our tiny rental car, the cab was positively luxurious.

Once we get to the apartment that Erin found (via Air B&B, if I recall), we got to actually decompress for a bit, which was quite nice.  But this is PARIS!  Paris isn’t a place to sit in an apartment and relax!  No matter how cool the hostess was, or how nice the half-couch lounger-thing is!  We needed to move, to explore, to eat Parisian food!

So… we did.

  • The apartment was in the Montmartredistrict, historically home to artists and bohemians galore… so it’s quite pretty, a bit quiet, and has lots of neat shops.  Ohh, and did I mention the Moulin Rouge?  Yeah, we were literally less than a 10min walk from it.  Less exciting that you’d expect, in the daytime.
  • There’s a lot of neat little roads and little shops and little cafes in this area… it’s like this is the city that all other cities try to be like, when they’re designing little roads with little shops and little cafes.  Heh.
  • We ended up having lunch at a cafe on a corner that looked interesting, but whos name I can’t remember for the life of me.  What I do remember though, was the sandwich and the milkshake.  The sandwich was an amazing combinatoin of ham, tomatoes, goat cheese, and melty cheese on excellent crusty french bread.  The Milkshake… Well, you know the line “five dollar shake” from Pulp Fiction?  This was a $10.00 shake.  Literally, 6 euro 90.  But DAMN was it good!  Strong vanilla bean flavor, just thick enough to be a shake, but not so thick that you can’t easily drink it.  <drool>
  • From here, we follow Erin’s cool little “Interesting walks around Paris” book – choosing a perfect walk for us: the Arts and Tarts walk.
    • Basilique Du Sacre-Coeur: A gigantic basilica that soars above Paris on a huge hill.  Giant stairs up front (complete with a cable car for American Tourists) and an amazing view of the city itself… a view that looks very similar to Cambridge, since you can’t see the Tower of the Arch from here.  Still, quite impressive.
    • Crypts of the Basilique Du Sacre-Coeur: I love crypts.  I’m not sure why… maybe it’s the celebration of peoples lives, or the fact that it immortalizes people who have long since passed away… whatever it is, these crypts were gorgeous and haunting.  Huge statues, dark arches, it had the works.  Nice.
    • Square Suzanne Buisson: Here, we found St. Dennis’s statue.  Holding his own head… there’s an interesting story to this saint.
      See, the Roman’s sentenced him to be executed at the top of a hill, in an ancient roman temple.  But the soldiers sent to execute him couldn’t be bothered to walk the whole way up the hill, so they stopped early and honked his head off there.
      St. Dennis though, was having none of that foolery.  So he calmly picked his head up, and continued on.  He did stop to wash it off when it got too dusty, but aside from that quick stop, his corpse didn’t rest or stop walking until he had reached the temple and placed his head on the steps.
      Yep.  Old-school saints were a bit ridiculous.
    • We found a wizards tower in the middle of a tourist area.  Or maybe a water tower.  It had windows though…
    • Tourist shops!  No!  Stay away!  I don’t care how pretty the paintings are!
    • The only remaining working Vineyard in Paris was visited… the only thing that the tour book said, aside from noting its age, was that the wine grown there was known among connoisseurs as pretty terrible.  Really not worth trying, unless you like drinking vinegar.
    • Espace Montmartre: an interesting Salvador Dali exhibit… but we skip it over, in favor of further exploration.
  • From the completed walk, we needed a nap.  We’re not as badass as St. Dennis, you see.  But we only stay for a little, before heading out once again… this time, for a full Parisian meal, and an interesting set of drinks…
  • We take the Metro, since we’re looking all dolled up and super classy.  It’s… complicated, and has a lot more lines than Boston does.  But the trains actually have rubber tires that provide motion, so they’re a LOT quieter and smoother rides.
  • We arrive at the restaurant that we were aiming for… wait, no we don’t.  Because it doesn’t exist anymore?  I guess?  There’s something else in its place… an irish pub.  No thank you.  Instead, we go with Rebeccas recommendation – based on her immense background in recommending things based on her snap judgement at the time.
    • Turns out, her snap judgement is excellent.
    • Escargot for an appetizer, followed up with amazing roast duck and a bit of chocolate lava cake that I stole from said Rebecca, washed down with espresso.
    • Yep, we’re in France all right.  The Escargot is amazing!  It was in the shell, which was a first for me, but once I figured out how to hold the dang things I had a good time eating the snail, and then pouring out the oil & butter mixture to be mopped up with a piece of bread.  Heaven!
    • The roast duck… I cannot even.  Words don’t describe.  Basically, I enjoyed myself a bit.
  • From here though… it’s still early!  We’re in the city of lights!  So you know what that means?  Descending into a dark basement!
    • Seriously, actually.  We go to a place called “Chez George”, which is a wine bar in a sort-of-refurbished wine cellar.  Literally a tiny spiral staircase down a story, and then three little cave basement brick rooms with tables, chairs, music and wine.
    • Lots of wine – we of course had some with dinner already, but we ordered another few bottles to keep ourselves occupied.  One even came with a tumbler of Schnapps with it!  We were very confused as to why there was a tumbler of schnapps, until we realized that we’re supposed to mix the two.  Not too bad.
    • When we arrived, it was already more than a bit packed with people, and it got even more so as the night wore on.  Dancing happened between the tables and on the benches, people piling into every little inch that they could find.
    • Yep, dudes smoking it up in the bathroom.  Classiness knows no borders.
    • The music… wow.  A lot of French pop, some US dance music, and… Hava Nagila?  What?  Sure!  Why not!  Dance along!
  • After we finish off a few bottles though, it’s time for bed.  It’s late, and we’d spent the whole day either traveling or walking around the city.  Sleep.  With Daniel as our guide, the train takes us safely back past the Moulin Rouge and to our comphy and cozy French beds.

 

Sunday, 25-May

Our first and only full day in Paris was marked with tourism and disappointment and more amazing food and sassy gay Frenchmen.  Mostly the tourism and food though, thankfully – and it was quite fun.  Hell, we even saw hawkers running for their lives as police officers patrolled the Eiffel tower! What more could you ask for?

  • The day started out with our usual waking up slowly, yet with purpose.  Damn, it’s like we’ve been doing this for a week, and we’re all excited about explore a new city or something.  Who would have thought it?  The difficulty though, was when we all tried to take showers at the same time, and some people didn’t understand the correct morning ritual order.  See, you go to the bathroom and THEN shower.  Yes, it may take a little bit more time, but it’s infinitely better.  Daniel and I understood it (bro-fist), but the girls made fun of us for it well into the day.
  • Anyways, we did leave the apartment.  After a bit of fighting with the lock, of course… but that’s just to be expected when you’re dealing with a new place.  Once we were out though, we made a beeline for the metro, and hopped a train to our first destination:
  • Loup Blanc, a brunch place that’s actual open at an actual normal time, instead of the Parisian normal of noon or one.  Now there’s a bit of a story to this place; you see, a few years back a group of us went bar hopping in Boston.  Daniel’s turn came to pick the next place, and he picked a bar “a block or two away” called Flash Cocktails.
    After almost two miles of walking, we arrive to find that it’s clientele was… definitely not straight.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind… especially since the waiter loved Daniel, Mike and I.  But still.  We gave him crap for it.  I guess he’s been waiting to get back at me for that though….
    Fast-Forward to Paris, and Loup Blanc is, aside from being full of amazing food and drink, very much not straight either.  As in “There are magazines full of very attractive men wearing very small clothings” in the bathroom.  Of course though, this place had been “Ben’s choice”, since Daniel showed me three places and let me choose.  Loup Blanc just so happened to have exactly what I was looking for.  Strange, how only one option was really good…
    Anyways, the food was great, and the waiters were entertaining.  Everyone else ordered one breakfast, I ordered another, and the waiter brought four of the same because he couldn’t be bothered to make different stuff.  I was a bit sad, but everything was tasty so it’s all good.
  • Wow that last line was long.
  • Walk to Notre-Dame Du Paris!  Through a sleeping tourist trap… it was neat to see the stalls and hawkers all rousing themselves – tents being set up, stores opening, and people sipping their coffee trying to decide if it was worth it for them to pretend to care about us.  They decided that it was not worth it.
  • Notre-Dame!
    • This place is huge… a lot bigger than I remember
    • Crowds.  Yep.  Though Paris doesn’t wake up before noon on a Sunday, the tourists sure do.  The square out front is packed full, though thankfully there don’t appear to be any hawkers…
    • Rebecca and I split off from Daniel and Erin when they stop to take a picture and get eaten by the crowds – we head inside to check it out, figuring we’ll all link up at the end
    • This is a monument to what people can build, with their own hands and very few tools, when the willpower is there.  Holy crap.  It’s amazing, and I can’t imagine the architect who originally envisioned this.  It took generations to make, and more stone than most kings have in their castles, I would assume.  Simply put – holy crap.
    • The “Crypts” here are… yeah they’re not crypts.  We go, but it’s actually an old dig site, explaining the history of Paris and what was here before.  Turns out that the island that Nortre-Dame is built on was the original city-site, and was actually expanded unnaturally to make the island big enough for the populations that came along.
  • We link back up with Daniel and Erin, and leave for the one thing I desperately want to see: The Catacombs!
  • We don’t make it to the catacombs… we arrive at 3:30 or so, and the line to get in is roughly an hour long… and the last admittance is at 4:00.  We stay in line anyways.  I get sad.  They close the doors.
  • As a consolation prize, there’s the main Parisian cemetery nearby – we check it out, though in all honesty it’s not super exciting.  Some interesting headstones and mausoleums, but nothing too crazy, or that we couldn’t see back in the States.
  • From here, We move on the Les Invalides (I guess its official name is: L’Hôtel national des Invalides?) – not too much to see, but what there is… it’s impressive.  They treated vets WELL back then
    • Looking back on it, I sort of wish that I had pressed for us to explore a bit more – I guess the cathedral here is full of relics and trophies from past wars; things France collected from past conflicts
    • What we did see, however, were the gardens.  And what we learned in these gardens, is that there is only one entrance / exit from the place… and a large moat protecting it.  We had to walk a long way to get back, while Rebecca waited on the other side…
  • A note walking along the streets of Paris… I am jealous of French kids.  I mean… how much better would highschool have been if we could have brought a picnic basked to an amazing city green, and drank wine & beer?  So much better, that’s how much.
  • Eiffel Tower!
    • Whoa… yep.  Just as many bajillions of people as I remembered.  Literally seven wedding parties all taking pictures at the same time.  Interestingly enough though, all Asian families.  Not like “most of the folks were Asian”… no, this was complete families with their own photographers doing destination weddings.  Dang.
    • Hawkers!
    • Ben – “Hey Daniel!  I could totally climb this!”
      Daniel – “Hey Ben!  Don’t do it!  Look at all the guys with rifles!”
      Ben – “Awww…. Darn you, Terrorism!”
  • I do a little dance with a bachelorette-party girl, as we nearly run into each other trying to take pictures.  My “ahh!” of surprise at nearly walking into her is mirrored as she sings a little tune at me, before waltzing away.  What.  Did that really happen?  Yep – Erin and Rebecca are giving me crap for not dancing with her.  It did, indeed, happen.
  • We find our dinner at a mid-sized place right on the Champs-Elysees… though I couldn’t tell you the name of it for the life of me.
    • More escargot, though again it’s only eaten by Daniel and myself
    • Entree actually means appetizer, FYI
    • Main dish = Lasagna… <drool>.  Just remembering it makes me hungry…
  • The last site of the evening, for Rebecca and I at least, was the Arc de Triomphe (de l’Étoile, technically).  Daniel and Erin headed up to the top, while Rebecca and I explored the bottom a bit.  We were heading back to the apartment for some much needed rest (and a chance to do some writing for me), while Daniel and Erin moved on to more romantic locales…
    It’s pretty, honestly, and a lot like the Cathedral in that the Arc is just a massive monument to what people can do.  I mean, it’s obviously a monument to other stuff too, but I see it more as a “Hey!  Look what we can do!  Ahh lots of stones!”  We haven’t really changed much, have we?
  • Heading home via the metro… I think I’m starting to understand their systems, at least a little bit.

***NOTE!  The museum that I next went to after getting home is… unique.  Those with delicate sensibilities may want to assume that I wrote and slept for the rest of the night.***

 

I warned you!
Really I did!
Ok, so we’re near the Moulin Rouge, right?  That means we’re near the red light district.  Well, Paris isn’t ashamed of that stuff… at least not a huge amount.  So they’ve got a museum about it.  Called Le Musee De L’Erotisme De Paris.  And, of course, I just had to check it out.  I mean… how often to you see an actual museum dedicated to sex and its history?  In the city of Love!

As I walked in the door and got myself a ticket (all in French, thankyouverymuch) I started to see exactly what kind of a place this was – The first few floors were dedicated to historic pieces, relics recovered from ancient and not-so-ancient cultures.  Above that was a whole floor dedicated to the history of the sex industry in Paris itself, and above that was a rotating gallery space that was currently occupied by a Japanese Eroticism exhibit.  Interesting.

The “Cultural relics” section was what intrigued me the most, and was definitely where I spent most of the time.  Giggling about ancient dildos aside, it was quite interesting – Ancient pre-columbian statuettes depicting group “activities”, African tribal relics that had been held by the matriarchs, and even “fake pregnancy armor” that said tribes would wear for ceremonies.  Even New Zealand had a few.

I think my favorites though, were the Buddha / Geisha statuettes.  See, they looked normal at first – chaste, in fact.  However, if you flipped them over and looked at the bottoms… well, let’s say that the artists knew exactly what a Chinese emperor wore under his robes.

The rest of the museum was interesting, if a bit excessive.  The section on Paris was informative (At the height, there were 50,000 prostitutes registered in the city), and the Japanese section was strange and confusing.  Though I did enjoy a vintage advertisement for an 1800s Parisian brothel, that contained a review commending the “condoms of perfect quality”.

 

After leaving the museum, I did in fact go to bed.  But not until Daniel and Erin had gotten back home after their excursions, since I was the only one with a Key.  So… Bed happened sometime around 1:00 or so.

 

Monday, 26-May

 

A travel day, without too many interesting stories.  We woke up, we got a cab, we ate a pastry while waiting for said cab, and we arrived at an airport.

We waited in a long line for a long time to get to where we check our bags, and we spent that time napping, reading, and tying Daniel’s bag together with cordolette so that it wouldn’t rip any more than it already had.

Erin got distracted by soureniers in the Duty Free shop.

Ben got distracted by Cognac in the Duty Free shop.  The cognac cost 6,400 €, or roughly $8,700 USD.

There were cute Irish backpackers hanging around near us.  They all had headphones on, so I didn’t get to hear any interesting stories.

We flew.  We relaxed in Dublin and ate some food, and we called Allison back home to beg her to pick us up from the airport, since our previous ride was actually in California.

I napped, wrote, and was happy that the trip had been amazing.  I was also a little sad that it was over…

 

Spring Break 2014 – Paris: Street Art

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Saturday, Sunday & Monday, 24 – 26 May, 2014

Location: Paris, France

 

Something I really enjoy looking at, when exploring a new city, is the street art.  The Graffiti, the tags and the little unofficial pieces that get put up every few blocks.  I’m sure that some of them have deeper stories than I’ll ever know, but I like to think that I can get a basic feel for a city from what they have.

For example, much of what I saw in Venezuela was quite intricate and artistic… mostly due to the fact that the president had actually commissioned a number of pieces to “spice up” the construction barriers filling the city.  Or in Hawaii, where the pieces were large and showed a lot of mythology – since people had more time and light to work.

Paris, by contrast, had a lot of sprays and paper pieces – things that could be stenciled or applied quickly and easily.  There were a few much larger and more intricate pieces as well, that obviously took a lot of time and effort, but the majority could probably be applied in mere minutes.  Maybe this means that the police are cracking down a bit more?  Or that the artists prefer to put the time in someplace that they feel safe, and then do a quick application in public?

 

Either way: enjoy a few of the sights…

Spring Break 2014 – TGV Ride to Paris

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Saturday, 24-May-2014

Location: Cassis and  Aix En Provence – traveling to Paris

 

I honestly did not expect Daniel to be this excited about trains when he first brought up the idea of taking the TGV from Cassis to Paris.

To me, it was just another facet of our trip; the most efficient way to get from one area of France to another.  In hindsight, I must have missed a glint in his eye… maybe a subtle grin and shiver of excitement.

Because Daniel?  He loves trains, I learned.

And after riding the TGV, I have to agree.

It wasn’t like any train I’ve ridden in the States – it was fast, quiet, and didn’t stop constantly to let people on and off.  The ride was smooth, and the seats were comfortable.  What was this devilry?   But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.  We couldn’t just waltz onto the train carrying our tiny little BMW crossover.  First, we had to return the car.

There’s not really much story to returning the car, actually.  We sort of just returned it.  The drive was unique, I guess, since a BMW Crossover cannot in fact hold five people and their gear comfortably… instead, we sort of packed ourselves below the gear… it was super-safe though, since there was nowhere for us to move, and we were protected by bags in every direction.

But so we returned the car, then walked over to the station and sat down to rest and wait for the train.  I even bought myself a quiche.  Speaking purely in French, no less.

Then, the docents called us all forward, we showed our tickets, and waited at the platform as the train slowly cruised into the station.

 

Packing our bags onto the car was interesting, though not particularly difficult… we had noticeably more luggage than most, but that just meant that it was easier to find room to put it.  And once it was done we sat ourselves into a pair of “facing each other” style seats and locked ourselves down for the journey… Daniel and I did get up to explore the food car for a bit (aww yeah cappuccino and twix bars), but for the most part we chilled, read, and chatted.  And I may have stolen subtle glances at the super-cute French girl sitting next to us.  But since she was playing cards with her parents… I wisely kept my nose shoved into my book.