Sunday, September 20, 2009

Bonjour Paris!

We arrived on Tuesday in Paris! So fabulous! We took the eurostar train from London that travels at around 180 mph and got here in 2 hours. Our introduction to Paris was the wine and dainty meal served on the train. I was so excited to get there.

We arrived at a grand train station around 3pm, got on the metro and found our apartment. It is a cute studio in Le Marais (in the 3rd) with two art galleries on the first floor of the building.

Paris is so exotic. It is actually much harder than I thought it would be not speaking French. Thankfully Matt speaks enough to get us around, order food, etc. Anyway, we still had terrible jet lag (Paris is 9 hrs. difference from LA) so we slept for a few hours. From there, we got up, and took the metro to Champs Elysees, which is a long road that is the upscale shopping district in Paris, which, I found out later, is really only used by tourists. The Arc de Triumph is at the end off the road, which was a beautiful sight all lit up at night. I wanted to look fabulous to go to this area, so I somehow thought it would be a good idea to wear heels. Not a good idea. Lots of walking and I didn't feel very fabulous anymore...

Matt and I went to a restaurant that was a few streets away from the touristy area of Champs Elysees and ordered wine and a cheese plate. You can imagine my joy when the restaurant owner brought out a serving-tray sized plate full of cheeses and set it down next to Matt. So we ate the most fantastic cheese that night chosen by the owner. They left the huge plate next to Matt for a while, which was so distracting! The cheese!!

We spent the next day exploring Paris including Palais Royal (in search of Didier Ludo, an upscale second-hand handbag store that wasn't as great as it sounded) and Saint Germain. We couldn't seem to shake the jet lag, but we made plans to meet Sam and Laura at the Louvre at 9:45am the next day. After being up for almost 4 hours that night, we woke up at noon. The alarm didn't go off, and we were so bummed! We had no idea how we were going to meet up with them again since they didn't have a phone, and we weren't staying in the same area. In London, we had decided that if we didn't catch up before then, we would all meet at 8pm on Thursday under the Eiffel Tower. We hoped that was still the plan, even though we had missed meeting that morning.

So Matt and I set off to the Louvre around 1:30. Fabulous! It was overwhelmingly crowded, but it was so great to see the Louvre in person after all we had learned about it. The Louvre was actually the French royal palace for hundreds of years, until one of the King Louis decided to move it to Versailles. It started out as more of an estate, and then generation after generation of kings added to it to make it more grand. One of the halls is so long that kings used to have horse races down the hall. And the art! The sculptures, the paintings, the moat (an excavated part of the original moat that was used to protect the Louvre against invaders) - and we didn't see most of what was there.

The other exciting part of the Louvre was that Matt was famous! No less than 4 groups of people took pictures of him. Some people tried to hide that they were and some people just walked up to him and snapped his photo, but we figured that he must look exactly like someone famous. I'm married to a star!

After several hours there, Matt and I raced over to meet Sam and Laura under the Eiffel Tower. At about 8:20pm, we figured they weren't going to come, but we decided to wait anyway. It was so surreal, I felt like I was in a movie - just waiting to meet someone special under the Eiffel Tower. Matt was walking around looking for them, when suddenly, Sam was walking towards me! You have no idea how happy I was! We waited around until 9 to see the *glittering* Eiffel Tower, which was the BEST! The four of us went to dinner at an Italian restaurant and then off to a cafe for drinks.

On Friday, Sam, Matt and I got up early to go to a market near Sam's hotel. It was part permanent market (inside), part farmers' market (outside). A highlight of the trip! We went to the meat counter, the cheese counter, the fruit counter, the bread store - at each one, you wait your turn, and then the proprietor spends as much time with you as needed. Answering your questions, painstakingly cutting your portions and wrapping them. Everything is done with such care and purpose. Just what I had hoped to find in Paris! (Sam and I also daydreamed of getting into a ring with each other and battling it out with giant hamhocks that were hanging from the ceiling - the photo of us also has the hamhock.) We saw people carrying huge half-pigs around and lots of older French people grocery shopping. The most impressive part of the whole event was when I went to buy figs, and the woman hand-picked the best figs for me. Can you imagine?? Lovely!

From there, we took our picnic on a bus to Versailles. It was beautiful, but I eventually was bored seeing room after room that is so overwhelmingly big, ornate, and really just over the top. The audio tour was also super-boring - mostly discussing the paintings on the ceilings rather than the history of Versailles, the kings/queens, etc. This is one tour that I actually wished we had gone through a company so that we could have gotten more information. The best part of the day was when we went into the gardens and set up our little picnic on the grass. It was the first sunny day of our whole trip and we just ate in the manicured lawn of Versailles. Matt, my brother and me.

That night we saw Sacre Cour (a beautiful church on a mountain top) and sampled "onion soup" which is French onion soup to us. It was much lighter than our version, but oh so good.

Finally, yesterday, Matt and I met up with our friend Derek and his boyfriend, Ramion. I went to high school with Derek and Derek and Matt actually studied in France together in college. So we both knew Derek separately, which was cool. The four of us spent a few hours catching up at a cafe in the Marais (our neighborhood) and then walking around. That night, Derek and Ramion took the four of us to Djoon - a restaurant that turns into a club. We were definitely the only non-Parisians there, which was super-fun. I just had the best time with everyone. I got to ask Ramion a lot of questions about the French. Before we came to Paris, Matt explained to me that the French are much more solemn-faced than we are. You don't really smile at strangers here. This has been so hard for me! I feel like I'm always trying to be serious or hold back a smile. Ramion told me that it was actually ok - sometimes he thinks it's refreshing to see people smile. Good news for me!

My main goal was to go to each of the cities we were visiting and to relax and spend time in the city like the locals do. But in the process, I realized that the first time you visit a place, you have to see the tourist sites. Otherwise, it's much harder to appreciate the culture and history of the city. Since that realization, we have embraced being tourists! Of course, we have also relaxed at cafes for much too long, window shopped, strolled around town - all just like my beloved French - but we're also packing in the tourist experiences.

Overall, I must say that I absolutely love Paris and I can appreciate the French attitude. Ramion put it best when he said that the French "live naturally" They don't have to be at work at a designated time - they just come between 9 and 10 and then work accordingly. They aren't fake and aren't overly polite - they're just themselves. It may not come across as being really nice, but you always know where you stand with a French person.

The best of Paris: French language, saying Bonjour every time you enter a store, imagining Sam and I dueling with ham hocks, listening to French, the way the cafes set up the tables outside for people watching, Derek and Ramion, pan au chocolat, really all of the food we've eaten, lingering in cafes, being on vacation, the super-convenient metro, dreaming about moving to Paris.

Lots to think about...but so very much to love about Paris!

Tomorrow we leave on an overnight train for Florence. I'll write more soon.

Jessica O.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds SOOOO wonderful. Thanks for sharing your thoughts whilst on vacation. It's been a kick reading your blog. Can't wait to see your pics! Love to Matt. XOXO