Saturday, January 15, 2011

Paris, France (2005)

D and I moved back into our house around Halloween, but I'm still cleaning up boxes from my study. A few weeks ago, I ran across a stack of composition notebooks. Back before I bought my netbook, I used to keep travel journals using pen-and-paper. I have notes from our trip to Western Europe in 2005, our trip to Eastern Europe in 2006, Cambodia and Vietnam in 2008, and Argentina, also in 2008. I'm glad that I have all the details down somewhere, but when people ask me for travel advice, it's way better to have them online, so I think I'm going to take some time and start transcribing them into this blog.

I'm starting with the oldest notebook, which chronicles an 18-day trip through France, Spain, and Portugal that D and I took with two friends. We left San Francisco on September 2nd and returned on September 20th.

We arrived in Paris in late afternoon of the 3rd. I had pre-booked us at the Fourcy branch of the MIJE hostel, which turned out to be centrally located, with small but clean rooms (32 EUR per person for doubles). Reception spoke excellent English but I did have to speak a few words of baby talk to the guy selling phone cards down the street: "telecarte" "pour telephoner", and "oui".

One of our friends had a high school friend who lived in Paris with her boyfriend. We met up with her and she took us to her apartment in Montrouge, where they served us delicious homemade crepes. Her boyfriend is from Bretagne (Brittney) which is where crepes originated, so I imagine they were quite authentic. We had toppings such as salmon and cheese, eggplant and pork, and olives. For dessert the choices were: assorted fruits, lemon and sugar, nutella, chocolate, and cointreau with sugar. Delicious!

The next morning we had free baguettes, croissants, coffee and juice at the hostel, and then headed off to the Louvre, since it happened to be the one Sunday a month that museums in Paris are free. D and I had been to the Louvre previously (in 2000) but our friends had not, so we hit all the famous pieces first (Mona Lisa, Madonna on the Rocks, Venus de Milo, Winged Victory, etc.), before perusing the Richelieu wing at a more leisurely pace. We also saw the apartments of Napoleon III for the first time, which was a bit like Versailles, although smaller and less grand. We also hung out in the Jardin des Tuileries for awhile before meeting back up with the friends from the previous day, plus another who arrived from London on the Eurostar. Once we found everyone, we took the subway out to Montmartre, where we hiked up to Sacre Coeur.

I had been up there twice before, but the view is really nice and the surrounding neighborhood very cute, so I certainly didn't mind returning again. We tried to get lunch, but the restaurant that we had in mind was closed for holiday; apparently it's common for French people to do this in late summer. We finally just got some fresh sandwiches (ham and cheese, etc.) from a little sandwich shop.

After eating, we went to check out L'Arc de Triomphe, and then walked back up the Champs Elysees, past the shops to the garden-like area, before cutting over to Les Invalides, and then into the Musee Rodin. The museum was nice, small, and filled with Rodin sculptures, both in the gorgeous garden and inside the one small building.

For dinner, we ate at Le Petit Prince, where the decor was interesting and the food was fabulous. The special was a duck-themed meal with three kinds of foie gras; one raw, one chilled, and one cooked. I had an appetizer of mussels and a main course of veal, cooked with fondue cheese and onions. It reminded me of French Onion Soup, but with different cheese. For dessert we had warm chocolate cake and millefeuille with strawberries and cream.

On our last full day in Paris, we had planned to sleep in, but were woken up around 8am by the fire alarm. After standing in the courtyard for 10-15 minutes, we were told it was a false alarm, but since we were already up, we figured we'd just head out. Note to self: in the future, when there is a fire alarm, go ahead and take the extra five minutes to get fully dressed and pack a day pack, because everyone sure as hell will.

After that auspicious beginning, we decided to go to Notre Dame, followed by the Centre Pompidou, and then the Picasso Museum. We had some problems finding lunch again (everything was closed) but finally ended up at a brasserie called Les Quatre Fils, where we ate croque monsieur, omelettes, and salads.

Afterwards, we decided to go back to the river to catch a boat tour. We went by boat from Notre Dame to the Eiffel Tower, where we tricked D into taking the elevator to the very top, from where we took tons of pictures.

One of my relatives had recommended Le Relais de Venise, so we went there for dinner. Upon being seated, we were asked one question each: "medium, well done, or rare?" before being served a salad, bread, fries, and steak with a curry-style sauce. At first we were a little worried about the portion sizes, but then the waitress came back around and dished out seconds, which made it a great deal for 24 EUR each (including wine).

We then took the Metro to Montparnasse where we had drinks at the restaurant on the 56th floor, while waiting for the Eiffel Tower to light up (every hour on the hour). I snapped a lot of photos, none of which turned out, but it was a nice view nonetheless.

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