This post marks the first of our post-Europe blog entries. We had so much fun and adventure that we never got around to finalizing and finishing all of our posts. As a special note on this post, we visited Paris long before the terrorist attack. Je suis Charlie.
We stayed at a central location in Paris; the plus side was it was quick to get to everything; the downside is that our neighborhood didn’t have its own feel and vibe to it. If we ever make it back to Paris, I would choose a well-known neighborhood to stay in-- probably Latin Quarter or Montmartre. We walked a good amount, but still were pretty reliant on the Metro just for the sake of time and heat.
After a quick 1 hour morning flight from Hannover (€45 per person, with a checked bag and a chocolate croissant served on board), we dropped off our bags at the hotel and quickly made our way over towards Notre Dame. The building from the outside is stunning; it actually sits on an island in the middle of the Seine, which cuts its way through Paris. From the front, it hardly resembles a traditional cathedral; it looks more like a towering castle. From the side or across the river, it takes on a more classic structure and beckons your attention anytime you are near it. The inside is equally stunning, one of the top 5 churches we have seen, and well worth the visit.
Our hotel let us check in a few minutes early so we had time to drop off our bags before heading up to the area of town named Montmartre. It is commonly translated as mont = mountain/hill, and martre = martyr, the story goes that St. Denis was persecuted, beheaded, however his headless corpse picked up his recently lopped off head and trekked 6 kilometers north. Regardless of the truth of the story, it is a lovely neighborhood with a beautiful church up on top of the hill (Sacre Coeur). Instead of heading straight up, we wound our way along the back, visiting the lesser known areas, including a chocolatier, a macaron store, a butcher that specializes in prepared foods, a cheese seller, a bakery, and finally, we got some wine. On our way we saw a redeveloped area that featured a park with “I Love You” written in some 3,000 languages, had two of our tour members stay behind as the heat and walking uphill didn’t seem to resonate with their expectations of a food tour, and had 2 of our food tour members balk at the wine selection—our French guide didn’t pick up on the clues based on their clean, neat style of dress and haircut along with being from Utah…
Our favorite part of the food tour, and the desserts in general, were the macarons. Commonly spelt macaroon in English, I hesitate to translate it because there are two different desserts that are nothing alike that share this English word. If you are thinking about coconut right now, you’ve got the wrong macarons—these are colorful, small cookies/cakes, cut in half, with a delicious filling in between. They are like biting into a cloud! A crisp layer outside surrounds the fluffy cakey interior, which leads your tastes buds into the smoothing, luxurious filling that awaits you in the middle. There was just one problem. Deanna was sick just before the trip, and her main side effect was the inability to taste anything for the first two days of our trip. Therefore, we made sure to repeat all the highlights during the rest of the trip. However, she gained the ability to really appreciate the textures of what she was eating!
We made a stop at the Louvre which was worthwhile, but as neither of us are huge art lovers, we circled a few things on the map and made our way in and out. Of interest: you can enter through the well-known pyramid, but this has the longest line: skip the line and head in through the shopping mall which leads you to the same area. Also, it is open at night twice a week in Summer, when there are considerably less crowds. As everyone else is taking off for their dinner reservations, you can enjoy the more popular pieces like the Mona Lisa, Winged Victory, and Venus de Milo without elbowing your way past thousands of others. While the highlights were enjoyable, it was really more of a box-ticking activity, so that we could say we saw it—actually our favorite part was goofing off in other empty areas on the way between the main highlights—strolling through the sculpture garden, marveling the 4-foot tall Chinese pagoda-style flower vase, or Deanna taking a selfie with the infamous selfie sculpture.
We decided to do one nicer sit down reserved dinner as part of a “dinner and a show” night. Based on a Tripadvisor tip, we made reservations for Oka, a cozy restaurant with seating for about 16 people. There are only 2 seating times, and everyone is served the same set 5-course meal; there is no menu, just a list of ingredients written on the wall in French which the chef uses to create his masterpieces. Fancy and elegant, yet still attainable for people like us who are interested in good food, but are hardly foodies. The downside is that we don’t know the name of anything we ate there, but needless to say, the food was all 5-star quality served with exquisite presentation—would definitely recommend this place.
Afterwards we headed over to a small theater for a cabaret show. Just down the street from the Moulin Rouge, this theater offers a better show at cheaper prices—and we just walked over to take a photo of the Moulin Rouge. The cabaret show itself was a good time, featuring some can-can and other dancing along with some juggling and other random acts mixed in. Part of the run was that a very large portion of the audience was made up of what appeared to be a group of college students on study abroad from England, Australia, Canada, and the US. Their reactions, drunken comments, and time up on stage as part of a dance contest was an enjoyable addition to the show.
On our final full day, the weather forecast was HOT! For early-June, we had weather of 90-95 degrees, which makes for a hot day of walking around and sightseeing. We planned in two activities which are a bit less popular, out of the city center, and perfect on a hot day: a trip to Cimetière du Père Lachaise, and then down to the Catacombs. Slightly morbid for a trip to such a romantic city, and it may sound strange, but the cemetery is actually one of the most beautiful places in the city. Beautiful headstones and grave markings line the hilly city cemetery, which houses many famous French historical figures as well as Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison. Additionally, we stumbled across very vivid sculptures and memorials relating to WWII and the death of French nationals in concentration camps. But strolling through the winding paths leads to a great deal to ponder, contemplate, and discuss—definitely one of the most interesting parts of our visit.
As the weather continued to heat up, we made our way over to the catacombs—these are former mining tunnels underneath the city with a unique characteristic—a large section of them are lined with thousands and thousands of human bones, bones which were taken from overfull city cemeteries which were contaminating the drinking water. The catacombs are about 60 degrees, a perfect way to beat the heat—which is exactly what everyone else figured as well. This led to our first line in Paris of over 5-10 minutes, and we ending up waiting over an hour—but it was worth it. When you think about human boned lined tunnels, at first you think it would be very creepy and disorderly—but instead the bones were carefully stacked, and it almost feels like walking through a movie set rather than through disturbed and reorganized human remains. But take a look at the pictures to get a feel for the catacombs—words cannot do it justice.
What trip would be complete without a visit to the Eiffel Tower? Originally planned to be a temporary exhibit before hosting the world fair, it has easily become the most recognizable piece of the skyline—because it is just about the only structure that rises up that high. That begs the questions, why does everyone want to go up in there? We instead took an elevator to the top of Montparnasee tower and were rewarded with sweeping views of the city with an exceptional view of the Eiffel Tower. And the Eiffel Tower we visited up close on our last night, so that our lasting impression of the city would the Eiffel Tower at night—at least that was the plan! We brought a picnic complete with some of the best-renowned macarons in the city, since Deanna could finally taste again, and set up shop with a view of the giant projection screen showing the French Open in the background. However, all of a sudden our stifling heat gave way to a storm passing through, which both interrupted the tennis match being played just miles away, as well as leaving us scrambling for cover under nearby trees! As the rain passed, Kevin went out and bought a poncho that could be used as a picnic blanket, as the ground was now wet everywhere. We used the setting sun as an opportunity to takes some pictures as we walked under the tower, crossed the street, and headed up to the Trocadero fountain, which offers superb views of the Eiffel Tower as it is up on a hill. There we took in the sights and sounds, including a proposal, wedding photos, a group of girls shrieking at a rat (must have been Ratatouille). We enjoyed our food and drank our wine until the Eiffel Tower lit up and periodically sparkles, ending a lovely trip to the city of love.