Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ah Paris, the stinky cheese, the crusty bread, the French wines...J'adore Paris!

Nov 8th: I was on the plane going to Paris. I was going to THE Paris. THE Paris, with THE Effiel Tower, and THE Louve. Unfortunately, it was also THE Paris without a known person with whom I can stay. I would stay in a hostel for my first night, so my plan was to stock up on zzz's while on the plane because hostel sleeping is more like quick catnaps between creeks and squeaks that wake me up because someone could be trying to steal my life (my backpack). I was also still running on 2 hours of sleep plus 2 kind of hours of sleep from the night before. But somehow the excitement and neverousness of being in Paris was keeping me from sleep. There was no sleep to be had on the plane. I would like to point out that I was still traveling with the banana I bought in the airport, and it was cracking me up because my purse is so tiny I had to let half of it hang out the side. Also my trusty green water bottle that has been everywhere with me is starting to show it's age. :( I don't know what I'll do when it's a goner.

I arrived in Paris airport around 6:00pm, got my backpack and headed straight to the information counter. The girl there was super helpful, gave me a metro map/map of Paris and even printed off a street map on google on how to get from the metro stop to my hostel. I was thrilled to have such a good plan of attack. So I got on the tram that would take me into the 1st station. I made it to the first train station but couldn't figure out how to buy my metro ticket. Usually I use the handy little self-service machines but they were no where to be found. I finally asked a nice couple who had seen me checking the map on the tram earlier and asked me if I knew where I was going. I figured they'd be willing to help. They were; the man told me that it was too late to purchase the ticket to the city center, then he looked around for the machines and when he didn't find them adviced me to "cheat." He wanted me to jump the metro without a ticket. I thought about it, remembered that usually if I do something wrong then I'm unlucky enough to get caught. Better to buy a ticket. So I walked up and out of the terminal looking for someone to help and just ask I turned around in defeat my metro showed up...."To jump...or not to jump..." I sprinted down the steps and onto the metro before the doors shut behind me (please remember to keep my backpack in this vision). I had a long and very nervous ride after that. Who knew what they would do to me if they caught me without a ticket. Could I play "dumb tourist" and get away with it? Would they make me pay a fine? Just how fast could I run with my backpack? Luckily, I didn't have to find out. No one came on the metro to check tickets, in fact, in the whole time I was in Paris I never saw anyone control the metro tickets at all, AND I saw several people jumping over the entrance bars and also got pushed through my entrance bar by people going through on my entrance! Anyway I made it all the way through my three switches and to my metro stop. It was after the metro stop that I had my issues. I looked at my google map print off and tried to orient myself, which way was which? I knew I was in the correct area because right there in bright red flashing lights was the Moulin Rouge. A random stranger saw me looking lost and helped me figure out which street was which. Then I got worried because this same random stranger followed me for about 10 minutes while I was still trying to figure out where I was going. So I ended up paying more attention to the guy behind me than where I was walking and what was around me. I swear I must have walked up and down the same street 9 times before I found the metro stop where I had orginally started. And I KNOW the people sitting oustide at the 15 or so restaurants I passed each time I walked that same road had some great conversations about the lost little girl with the huge backpack. Somewhere in all that mess I lost the guy that I thought was following me, apparently, he was just walking. Better paranoid than sorry! Once back at the metro stop I decided it would be better to follow the somewhat directions given on the hostel's website. "Go up Lepic," I went. "take the 3rd on the right" I could only assume that this meant to turn right at the third street, so I did. "and Arisitde Bruant is the first street on the left; we're #7." I turned onto Arisitde Bruant and saw the big "Plug-Inn" hostel sign. Whooooo hoooooo!! I checked in, first only for one night until I saw the room. The receptionist looked at me with pity when she told me my room was on the second floor. By the time I got up there and unlocked my door it was 7:45ish, almost two hours after I picked up my pack...I turned with my back towards the bed and let the pack pull me down. Exhausted.

My first thought was sleep, my second thought, Effiel Tower...AT NIGHT! The second thought got the better of me and with it came my second wind. I felt a whole...oh 50lbs lighter, foot loose and fancy free! Hey, I was in PARIS after all, no way I was going to bed early. I was filled with visions of sitting on the grass, eating crusty bread and stinky cheese, and sipping Bordeaux. So I re-applied the deodorant, pulled out my map and wrote down which metros lines to take to which stops so I could go to meet the tower in all its twinkling glamour! I made it there in about 30 minutes. And once again I was like a little kid on Christmas all excited to see what Santa brought. As I walked out of the Metro station I looked right and there it was, all lit and beautiful against the black sky peaking out from above a building. Wooooooow... I walked towards it until it came into full view. I was stunned into awe and understood the magic of Paris. I stood there without moving letting people shove past me until I finally decided the magic was probably stronger with a closer look, stopping to have a couple take my picture along the way. I hadn't planned on going up but saw the lack of line and decided, why not go now? So I did. The access to the top was closed off because of wind/construction/whatever excuse they wanted; it was closed. So I rode the elevator to the second tier and looked out over Paris, the city I was going to discover for the next three days. It was beautiful, just, beautiful. Heart-gripping, breath-taking beautiful. I wondered around the 360 degree, first view, of the city for about and hour before I decided to go down and find some bread, cheese, and wine (it was waaaaaay too cold to sit outside, so I had plans to go back to the hostel area where it would be cheaper. Also I had passed an amazing cheese store in my efforts to find the hostel). But one the way down the elevator I over-heard two people talking. They were also traveling alone. One was from Mexico and traveling through Couch Surfing and the other was from CA in Paris on business. I started talking to them because Beronica said she was going to Italy. I had to tell her how beautiful it was there. We all ended up going to a restaurant nearby where we all had our own cliché meals. Beronica had cremé brulée, Ryan had hot chocolate, and I shared a cheese platter and bread with Ryan and drank Bordeaux wine. We had great converstaion until we had to leave to make sure we got back before the Metro system closed. On my way back I was in a daze of enchanment from the perfect-ness of the evening. There was no way it could get any better.

I was on my way to the hostel from the Metro stop ready to call it a perfect night when I passed a bar that was packed and everyone inside seemed to be having the time of their lives. I passed it up because it wouldn't be smart to go in there alone...

-but I am in Paris *step, step, step* and I'm really cold, I could get a mulled wine *step, step, step* I need to sleep *step, step, pause* Forget it, I'm in Paris, sleep can wait. *Turn, quick walk back.* I'll just take a look...-

I showed up in the Irish bar on the corner called Luk's and told the bartender I needed a drink and made him feel my hands. He was shocked at how cold I was and got me something to drink right away. I made friends with him, and the other bartender who acually owned the place, and with all of their friends who were the ones making all the noise before. Apparently it was the last night of work for their friend from the bar katy-cornered to theirs. They insisted that I join them for Champagne and dessert. I said Okay! I mean, why not? The Champagne was REAL Champagne from the real region in France and the dessert they told me was called Au Revoir that was layers of chocolate and caramel mousse that just melted in your mouth before you could even bite it. After we all closed down the two bars that my new friends were in charge of, we went dancing. After a bit of dancing the sleepiness really caught up to me. One of the bartenders was nice enough to walk me to the hostel, even though we were still just down the street and around the corner, it was safer to have someone else there. I made it home at about 3am, walked into a room full of sleeping roommates I hadn't met yet and crawled into my bunk wondering if they had passed such a perfect day in Paris as I had.

Nov 9, Day 2: I woke up at 8am to one of my roommate's alarm. I had a converstation with the roommate sleeping in the bunk over me before I even saw him. He was from Columbia, his name was Oscar, and he was here on vacation, he had spent the day before just doing touristy type things. We decided to go down to breakfast together so I got up and showered and got ready, then we headed down to get some free (included) breakfast. For breakfast they offered, in true French style, crossiant, rolls, cereal (special K!!), BIG coffees, and orange juice. We sat down at a table with another person. This is where I met Derek from Canada. I didn't know much about Derek except for the fact that he was Canadian and wanted to join me in my search of the day for a huge market I'd seen on Travel Channel's Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations Paris episode. We went back to our rooms to get ready then met downstairs and started our adventure with a trip to the grocery store to buy bananas since there were none at breakfast. €0.75 later we were on our way to the road we were pretty sure the market was on because Oscar had seen the same episode and was going to go to this same area to have lunch. So we went to the area and searched, and searched, and searched. We never found THE market. But we did stumble upon A market which was good enough for us. We found a place we referred to Cheese Heaven because of all the different types of stinky cheeses ranging from soft and creamy to hard and crumbly...yuuuummm. We also found a lady selling Fois Gras...in cans of all shapes and sizes. We left there and went to see Notre Dam. Notre Dam was beautiful, and it had some really interesting architechture like the big tall statues standing on little tiny guys. And of course the inside was as beautiful as all the Catholic churches I had seen in Europe. Probably the most interesting thing about Notre Dam was outside when we left. There was a guy who was standing in the rain on one of the little pillars singing a chant at the top of his lungs and clapping his hands. We weren't sure what he was saying but the tune was stuck in both of our heads all day long and he was having the time of his life up there, so Hey, you do what you do I suppose. After here we traveled back to the Effiel Tower because Derek hadn't seen it yet. On our way there, while we were in the metro tunnels Derek said, "Mmmm, I smell cheese...or maybe it's just mold." I laughed for about 10 minutes. Derek and I had a lot of good converstaions about cheese, and food in general. He has just graduated from chef school in Canada and was on his way to Holland to find work since he has family there. We got to the Effiel Tower and I was able to see it during the day. Derek took the stairs up to the second level and while he was doing the view thing I was waiting at the bottom watching the random vendors come though. One that was particularly interesting was a guy playing the bagpipes. It made me think of my dad right off the bat. Then the guy (very red-checked and having a hard time breathing in the frigid air) played the most beautiful version of Amazing Grace. It was so beautiful to be there under the tower looking at the Fall parks around us listening to Amazing Grace on the bagpipes. I didn't even care that it was raining and so cold you could see my breath. After that song I amused myself with taking pictures of the parks as well as a group of those very scary and mean looking French police, carrying their rather large guns, all gathered in a group out of the rain having a smoke break. They caught me taking a picture and a few actually smiled for me. Since my French isn't so great, I just smiled and laughed. When Derek came back down we walked through the park to the building that holds Napolen's grave. We stopped to take pictures, and to play in the piles of leaves that they had raked up. It reminded me of when I used to play in the leaves at Mom and Dad's...and when they finally got to the point when they said, "If you want to play in them, you have to rake them." That's the last time before this that I had played in the leaves. :) We got to the other side of the park and the building was closed. We figured it was sign that we should move on and caught the metro down to Champs Elysées to walk the famous shopping district. We got there and walked past store after store of things we couldn't afford until we got tired and deicded it was time to go home for food and a nap. We stopped at Derek's favorite wine shop on the way home and bought a French Chardonnay. I left Derek at his room with a corkscrew and told him I'd see him later at the computers...I was DEAD tired. I took an hour and a half nap before I rejoined the living world. I got up and made myself presentable and then went down to work on the computer. After awhile Derek and I decided it was time to have a happy hour and met in my room to share the Chardonnay. Then we decided we had probably better go get some crusty bread and stinky cheese since it was all we had talked about all day long. We got sidetracked by a restaurant that specialized in beers and went in to have a drink. This is where I had the SMOOTHEST most delicious French red wine I have ever tasted. It was not only smooth, but also had a great body to it. It was smokey and fruity and the tannins were there but not annoyingly strong. It was called Chinon AOC. I know nothing else, but it was amazing. We left this place and deicded to try a bar that was labeled "Austrialian" but it was a bust, they had comfy couches and only a cocktail list in which everything was overpriced. We left. I mean, they would never see us again, so why stay? We decided it was time for that bread and cheese. But now it was late and the Fromagerie by our hostel was already closed as well as the Boulangerie. So we had to settle for a convenince store and bought President's Brie cheese (although considerably cheaper in France than in the states) and Wasa melba toasts and a bottle of Bordeaux Blanc for €3.50. We (read, I) also bought several kinds of gummies for our dessert. We went back to the hostel and shared our random smorgasbord. We even had to use the radiator in the room to warm our Brie up to room temperature. When we finished we were ready to go dancing. And dance we did. We went back to the same place I had been the night before and danced with all sorts of Frenchies and Tourists until about 2am when we decided we were hungry. However, the creperie was closed so we had to find somewhere that was actually open. We went into every restaurant if they were "overt" and "per manger." We got enough no answers and at one place there was a kind gentleman (read, slightly drunk older man) who offered to take use to a crepe place his friend ran that was sure to be open. So he lead us there, but insisted that we skip and sing and hold hands as we went...so we did. Hey, the guy was leading us to food and we were starving! Plus it made for great memories. When we got to the crepe place it was closed, just like everywhere else. The skipper/singer/mojito drinker left us to fend for ourselves and we wondered around until we finally find a place that was open. We got a goatcheese and tomatoe salad with balsamic dressing and also the dessert assortment. We, being the foodie type people we are, picked apart every part of the dessert deciding that they must've been a pre-made. We left there and were still hungry so we found another restaurant to have a main course of Salmon with a dijon and dill dressing and potatoe wedges. It was delicious and now we were full and sleepy so we headed back to the hostel. We arrived around 3am.

Nov 9: The next day my alarm went off early, tooooo early. We were planning to go to the Louve to meet the Lady of the City and we wanted to get there early to beat the crowd and Derek's train left in the afternoon so we had to be on top of things. I drug myself out of bed and got ready and went down for breakfast. However, when I got there, Derek was no where to be seen. Hmm... I finished my breakfast then went to find Derek. He had gone back to sleep!! I woke him up with the knock on the door and he got his packs ready and the we left. He carried his big backpack and I carried his little one so that he wouldn't have to carry it on his front like a pregnant lady. We made it to the Louve and I was expecting a 3 hour wait just to get in. Lucky for us, there were no lines, no wait. Nothing. The only hang up we had was when Derek had to put his backpack through the scanner and they found his chef knifes. I think he's had to explain those a few times because he was totally cool about them telling him to come the to screen and explain, "What is THIS?!" to the upset Frenchman. Once inside with bags and coats checked we bee-lined to the Mona Lisa. We wanted to see her first since she was the Lady of Paris and therefore the most important. We stoped a couple times along the way to take pictures wherever we saw groups of tourists crowded around a statue or picture. Most of the time we didn't know what we were looknig at, just if it was pretty or not. When we found the Mona Lisa we could barely see it because it was hidden by the massive group of tourists. I pulled us through to the very front and pushed back and forth with a group of Asian tourists in order to get to the middle up in front. When I got there I was SUPER surprised to see just how small she is. She's tiny! Like 8x10 size. And they put her in a room surrounded by some of the biggest paintings I've seen! After Mona we ventured to see Vesuvius (the lady statue with no arms). Then we walked around looking at more statues. Captions to some photos: France file, picture#180 "Dude, you're such an idiot!"*SMACK* Pic#183 I found all the heads that the statues in Rome are missing... Pic#184 "Chariot!" : After the statues we walked around endless amounts of paintings, never finding the one I was looking for. We gave up and called it quits on the museum for the day, too much museum can really get boring. We had a snack at the cafe then picked up our belongs and headed out to find a Patisserie that I had read about on www.parisbymouth.com which was reccommended by the airline's in flight magazine. The reviews of this place were not off by even a little. The place is called Gana and it is run by two daughter's whose dad is a Michellen chef. It was quiant and there were just enough choices. They even had a half open kithchen in which you could see them working on their breads. I choose some sort of Almond pastry that was made from phyllo dough and just a trace of almond creme in the middle with a crusty sugary top. Mmmm...as I sat there on the street side bench eating, each bite was like heaven in my mouth. Derek had a sweet bread that was also filled with a type of custard and chocolate chips on top. After we ate dessert Derek went back for pizza and told me it was just as amazing. After this it was time to take Derek to the train station. We got there and his train was 20 minute late, so we hung out and looked this his recipe book and he told me about a cheese cake that he did that sounded amazing, but I can't remember what it was called now. When it was time, we said goodbye with a hug, and exchange of Derek's 5 day metro pass to me, and a "Until later, have a most excellent adventure." He was off to Holland and I was headed back to the hostel for an easy night. I got back to the hostel, re-arranged some things and headed back out again. I was on the search for my souvineer ring. I found a few that I liked, but the one I liked the most was too small for the finger I wanted to wear it on. So I left it there and headed up to Sacre Cuore, a church that sits on a high hill and is not only beautiful itself but also has a great view of Paris. I looked through the church then planted myself on the steps outfront in order to watch the sunset over Paris. I must say that it was so beautiful I felt like Paris was saying to me, "Au Revior,a prochaine!" It was absolutely beautiful, minus the other tourists. I even go someone aske me for a light, and when I said I don't smoke asked me if I was Spanish. This guy could've been a drunkie, especially to think I look Spanish. I picked up some dinner from the grocery store and headed back to the hostel. On the way back I saw the sister store of Vino100. This guy may not have meant to do it, but the reds were on one wall, the whites on the other, and the wooden box set up with one bottle out for display was REALLY like Vino100. Maybe the founder of Vino100 came to France and saw this very store and thought, "hmmm...I should build a wine store like that..." I also took time to stop at another Patisserie and have one of this cutisie looking cookie things that I'd been eyeing the whole time in Paris. I paid €.90 for a bright yellow meringue type cookie which was lemon flavored with a lemon filling, it was literallz like a little bite of heavnly lemon cloud at first and then like a chewy lemon flavored caramel in the middle. At "home" I got my bag all in order and packed, caught up on my journal, took a shower, and then headed downstairs to update the blog. I went to sleep late but didn't worry because I could sleep in late the next morning.

Nov 11: Yesterday Paris was sending me off with a lovely sunset over the city I had been enchanted by. Today, with the blistering wind, fridgrid cold, and rain, it was kicking me out with a big F*** You. Actually the morning started well with a very intriguing converstaion with my roommate Oscar, whom I discovered is a piolet for Delta airlines. We talked about all the places he's been and all the places he wants to go. This is always a great converstaion when you're traveling, everyone has their own story to tell. Also Oscar told me that Delta is looking for flight attendants who are multi-lingual, could be an idea for when I get back to the US, you know, to the part of life I haven't got a plan for yet. So I went down to breakfast feeling positive and with a plan for my day. When I left is when it went downhill. First I tried to go to the antique market to find myself a ring. The metro I needed was closed from my main stop to the market stop so I had to take the long way around and then walk two metro stops worth before I could there there. I finally made it there, after having to orient myself when I got off the metro. When I got there, everything was closed. The place was like a ghost town. There was nothing there. I finally got up the nerve, and gathered enough vocabalary from signs, and asked when they opened. He told me they are only open Fri-Sun and I said, of course they are because I'm here on Thursday. The man who helped tried to convince me to stay for coffee but I declined and headed back to the metro to find this infamous giant open market Derek and I had searched for before. This time I was armed with the address. I had to take extra steps with the metro, and nwo it was lunch time, so they were extra super packed. Luckily I was able to leave my backpack in storage because having it in this mess would've been horrible. I made it to the stop where the market shoudl've been, but instead got trapped inside a giant mall that seemed as if it had no exits other than the on I came though. So I eventually went back down to the metro and out that way, only confusing myself even more. I walked around the area hoping to run into this large plazza with a giant market. I couldn't find it, it was getting close to leaving time, I was cold and wet. I gave up. I headed back to my hostel to go to the store I had seen the day before to buy the ring that didn't fit the correct finger. When I got to the store adn went to try the ring on again, one of the pearls fell off... this was not my day. Let's add to this that I was also going to take bread, cheese, and wine to my friend's in Lyon and I had bought the wine the night before but now all the bakeries and cheese shops were closed. I gave up. I just wanted to be on my train. So I went to get my things and went to brave the metro crowds with my backpack. I made it just fine to Gare de Lyon and then went to buy my ticket on the little machine...it wouldn't take my credit card, or the other one, or the other one. I wanted to cry, "PARIS JUST LET ME LEAVE!!!" I had to go to a special line to buy my tickets, luckily the lady I got was really nice and spoke English and in a good mood. A genuine smile changes a lot. Finally I was on my train headed for Lyon, then Vienne where Stephanie would pick me up and drive me to her family's home in the mountians just off the Rhone River valley.

The picture of the chips was meant to show the difference between American's preferred tastes and the tastes of the French. Here was have potato chips that are the flavor of Roasted Chicken and Thyme, next we have Special K cereal with Stracciatella which are strips of chocolate that are half white and half chocolate. The next picture was a funny way to tell prenant women not to drink wine.

No comments:

Post a Comment