Goodbye, Paris

Today, I am sad.

We got up before the sun rose, packed our bags, turned our keys to our hostel, and took a long bus ride to the airport. And we left Paris.

I know it was time to go (because, well, there are other things that must be done, and one can’t be on vacation forever), but I already miss it.

I miss the L’Ouvre, and wish I had been able to spend a few more days there.

I miss the bookstores, because it is very hard to find good French books.

I miss the coffee, because I’m even more of a coffee snob now than when I arrived.

I miss the history, because while we might make fun of the French, their love of wine and cheese, and their tendency to surrender, the world actually owes a lot to them.

I miss talking with a World War II vet, even though I might have insulted him.

I miss the food, because it was good, and because while we make fun of the French for their love of wine and cheese, they make darn good wine and cheese.

I miss figuring out the corners of the city where the non-famous, but important things are. Like, where the Asian markets are so I can find hot sauce.

I miss the preponderance of rose flavored things.

I look forward to going back home, because I miss school, and I miss my flatmates, and I miss my own corners of my little city, where I don’t have to take the metro to get around.

So here I am, missing two places as once, happy to be going to one, sad to leave the other.

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The Most Expensive Dinner I’ve Ever Bought

As it is soon drawing to the point where we must abandon Paris for our more permanent abode, MK and I have started looking at all the things we’ve been meaning to do, but failed to do. The one thing MK had strongly requested at the beginning of our trip was that we get one nice, expensive, well-made Parisian meal. Which we have now done.

We’ve actually been planning this since before Christmas, and even went so far as to make reservations. It took us a while to find the place, as it was quite small, and we had actually chosen to walk (!!) from our hostel–which was no small feat. Even without stops, it probably would have taken us a half hour. We stopped by the Gallerie de Lafeyette on our way, then finally cut across and found the restaurant (thanks to GPS, because without it, we would still be wandering around, trying to figure out where we were supposed to go). The restaurant itself was beautiful, everything was nicely set, everything was in French and English (which is nice when you aren’t really sure what an item is in English, much less in a foreign language). This was definitely a meal to take your time over (all five courses of it), which generally wouldn’t have been a problem for us except, well…I lost my voice.

img_2163Completely gone. Like, not even a squeak. Just a general low whisper. This makes conversation very, very difficult. But we soldiered on, had some soup, something that was really tasty but I’ve yet to determine what exactly it was (best guess is whipped egg white with grilled onions and garlic in it with the raw yolk just sitting there, eyeing me with one eye). The bowls for the soup came with this sort of crust already baked onto them, with a nicely placed hole to one side, through which the waiter poured the soup. We continued through our meal, finally coming to the one thing we had both been looking forward to the most.

Dessert.

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Yes, dessert. Because we’re sweetness addicts.

It was totally worth the wait. It was like nutella, but on steroids. Nutellroids. It was a perfectly shaped little mousse, with the perfect amount of extra chocolate, the kind where you savour each bite and wish it could last just a little longer.

We eventually, however, had to finish. We had been at the restaurant for several hours, and it was now quite late. We took the metro back to the hostel, said goodnight to the Eiffel Tower from our window, and faceplanted into bed.

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Parisian Chocolate Is Hard To Beat

Alright, alright, I admit it.

I’m a chocolate addict.

And Europe’s been no good for me, either. They have great chocolates. Even their cheap chocolates are great chocolates (especially when compared to Hershey’s). But their expensive chocolates? Oh. My. Blessed. Platypus. They taste gorgeous. Back at home (in Cork) I have this weird top shelf in my closet. It’s not large enough to house much of anything, it’s too high for me to see into, but low enough that I can reach things on it without looking. That’s where I’ve been keeping all of my chocolate. My flatmate’s can’t see what’s up there, so what’s out of sight is out of mind, and they’re all too short to reach, even if they could see. My favorite to date is not the Cadbury Roses of yore, although those are quite tasty, but the “turkish” filled chocolate bars. At first they’re a little off-putting (because what on earth is “turkish”? Is it like turkish delight with a chocolate coating? turkey with a chocolate coating? turks with a chocolate coating? You can see why one might be concerned!) but they’ve become my go-to when I want to be somewhat cheap but also fancy (for your information, turkish=rose. I’m guessing it comes from the old-fashioned turkish delight that was made with rosewater. I’ve never had turkish delight, but if that’s where this flavor comes from, I understand why Edmund was tempted!).

Anyway. Back to France and French chocolates, as that is where we are today.

We had, at the beginning of our trip, hoped to take a train ride into Belgium, during which time I was planning to go chocolate-crazy, but that did not work, so we have been perusing the chocolates here. Today, I think I found my favorite chocolate shop in all of Paris. It’s called La Mère de Famille, and their chocolate is amazing. Besides being amazing, they also make specialized shaped chocolates that go with the season. Oh, and pastries. We bought some for now, and then the very nice girl at the counter helped me figure out how I could package some chocolate dipped candied orange peels back to my mother. Without question, they’ll have to actually travel with me, instead of being shipped (the store, sadly, does not ship to the US), but they’ll also have to go through customs twice before they reach the States–once to get back into Ireland, and then once more when I move back to the States at the end of semester. Depending on who you get when you go through customs, if things aren’t perfectly packaged, they’ll confiscate them. I’m not about to have my chocolate confiscated. We worked out a complicated box/bag system, and she sealed the entirety of it with tape and a nice looking sticker, so unless someone looks too closely, it should be acceptable.

Meanwhile, MK had picked out some macaroons. She’s been a on a mission to find the best ones in Paris, with no game plan greater than stopping every time she sees them in a window. So far, she’s found some pretty good ones. We’ll see if she can actually pick out which one she likes best at the end of it all….

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Old Bookstores and Pretty Parks

We went to Luxembourg Gardens today. Of course, the plan was to go to a museum, have lunch, and then hit another museum, but we got our directions mixed up and a)went to the gardens instead and b)got off the metro at the wrong stop.

So that was how our morning started. Once we realized our mistake, we switched gears to the Gardens plan (which was supposed to be a different day) which included some shopping. But first, the gardens.

after-paris-dump-198-2The gardens are absolutely gorgeous and are most definitely historic. It’s one of those slightly odd places, though, because many people go there as tourists and to see the area, while just as many people take their morning run through the park, play chess, picnic, or do jump squats…you name it. So it the midst of the joggers, you take a moment to look at little places of beauty and history. I suppose it strikes me as funny because one is such a treasure, and the other is so basic and necessary. In time, the gardens become just a part of a run, one that’s pretty, but one that is entirely normal. But to others, it’s almost as funny as the idea of opening your living room blinds and looking out at the Statue of Liberty, or living by Niagara Falls.

Anyway, back to the gardens.

We took some time to play with our cameras, not only because the gardens are pretty, even in winter, but because there’s a variety of statues (which tell a historical story, too), but we had figured out that if you work a panorama right, you can actually take multiple pictures of someone, and that is not an opportunity to waste.

img_7576-2We continued through the gardens and finally stopped at a small cart that was selling crepes and drinking chocolate and had some chocolate. It wasn’t the good stuff of Ireland–you could nearly taste the powder in it–but it was warm, and given that it’s, well, cold, warm is good. We kept wandering, sipping our chocolate, eventually finding our way through an interesting plaza with a fountain, and into an old bookstore. Apparently they actually refurbish books there–I only caught so much from the two old men who were discussing what to do about a certain book. It smelled nice, of old books, but was not of the same sort of bookstore as you might visit to put buy a book to shove in your backpack, so we eventually vacated, and headed on to more fruitful pursuits.

Like visiting the chocolate store.

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Some Thoughts on Parisian Protesters

Over the last few days, we’ve been crisscrossing the center of Paris. We’ve been past the Eiffel Tower more than once, and we’ve watched the light show from the Arc de Triumphe. All of this is near the government centers, which means that there is almost always some sort of protest going on. Some are French, but many have little to do with local matters, but rather with international ones. Once, a while ago, there was one about the Black Lives Matter movement (to give you an idea of the span of what the protesters might be discussing). Many of these protests last all day, or for many days, but are generally maintained in a neat and orderly fashion, where no traffic is blocked or people inconvenienced, but spread out and large enough that you can’t help but take notice of what is going on. There are often people with bullhorns or what-have-you, but what has really struck me is how these protests are so calm and stationary.

Really. They don’t particularly move. Even when they’re chanting, it’s a calm sort of thing (although the French are so stuck up about their language that it might simply be calm because they’re all very carefully enunciating everything at the same time, so as not to turn it into an intelligible combination of words). These places also seem to act almost as open-air discussion centers, with small groups clumping to talk out different viewpoints. I would like to imagine this is what the Greeks meant with early democracy, but I’ve a feeling it is not likely. Still, it makes me curious, and it makes me want to ask questions and hang out for a bit.

Which set me to wondering why, exactly, protesting in France seems so different than protesting in the US. Perhaps part of it is I’m only catching snatches, because my French isn’t that good, or that I’m more curious because it isn’t my homeland. Or it’s like a professor once told me, and that the people foreigners are most likely to meet and connect with first are the people on the fringes of the local culture and society, because those are the people who already don’t quite fit, and will be most willing to help you get acclimated. Maybe the protesters are the same in both places, but here as an outsider, I connect in a different way than there, where I’m not.

I don’t know. It’s all complicated.

We probably won’t see the protesters again, as we’ll be leaving Paris only too soon, but it has given me something the chew on. There have been no riots, so that isn’t exactly something I can compare notes on. But still, I wonder. I mean, my favorites will still be the Irish, because while everyone else is fighting and making messes, they’re just generally lovely and cleaning up everyone else’s mess (Euro 2016 is a good example).Because, you know, if the cops are going to get involved, you might as well sing to them and let them know they’re appreciated.

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The Petitioners At The Eiffel Tower (Or, Why You Should Never Sign A Petition In A Foreign Country)

After walking through the park and saying goodbye to our coypu friend, MK and I began heading off to find food (because we tend to do that a lot). We stopped and watched some people doing a photoshoot (I would have said they were cosplayers, because one of them was dressed like Toph, but then they were joined by others wearing the same sort of clothing style who were definitely not cosplayers, so I’m gonna go out on a limb and say they were taking professional photos in their traditional cultural clothing. Because, also, who would do an Avatar photoshoot at the Eiffel Tower, anyway?), then moved on. Or, at least, we attempted to, when we were stopped by a some petitioners.

This is never a good situation to be in, and it is one that makes my skin crawl. I generally won’t even stop for petitioners in my home country, nor will I, in general, sign any petition, because it makes you a very easy target for everything from pickpocketing (best case) to racketeering or intimidation for who knows what. For us, it wasn’t a huge deal as I wasn’t about to let either of us sign, and I have the handy fall-back that most petitioners don’t know how to deal with: I could literally lose my university funding if I get involved in anything political in my host country. Paris might not be in my host country, but it is in my host continent, and I’m not about to lose a scholarship because someone wanted a signature (although I doubt my university would be that strict). But either way, petitions are usually a bad idea, mainly because, well, they aren’t real.

You can often tell because of the details that seem painfully obvious when you think about it, but which are lost on you in the moment. A true French petition won’t be printed in English, but in French. Many legal petitions require that the signatories are citizens or subjects of that country. Basically, if it’s a real thing, the petitioners wouldn’t be interested in us at all, because we don’t fit the parameters necessary. Also, real petitioners tend not to scatter like cockroaches when the police come by. I’ve heard from some of my French friends that the police near the Eiffel Tower and other major landmarks regularly remove the petitioners from the area and confiscate their “petitions” since they are usually up to no good.

And sometimes the no good really is no good. Most of the time, the petitioners really want a “donation”, and every now and then (like today) they will push for a donation even if you won’t sign their petition. Many times, however, by signing, you are agreeing to pay a certain amount, and will go to pretty drastic measures to get you to do so. One girl at the university actually had a petitioner follow her for quite some time, until she managed to lose them in a crowded place. She was not happy about the experience, and was rather freaked out. I think I would be too.

This is also why, unless I’ve been caught red handed (red tongued?) I often prefer just feigning ignorance and pretending I don’t speak whatever languages get thrown at me (I’ve found a heavily accented “sorry!” is the best way to deal with that, because they can’t magically know Spanish or whatever else you have up your sleeve). Because, really, I just want to enjoy wherever I am in peace. Without having to worry about pickpockets. Or con artists. Or anything else. I just want to go “hey! It’s snowing and I’m at the Eiffel Tower!”

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The Actual Eiffel Tower (because it’s taken us this long to get here!)

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img_2361After getting thoroughly distracted by the coypu and the ensuing google dash to figure out its orgins (along with the cute little French child who was intent on catching a canard/duck and was telling his grandmother all about it as he slowly waddled after the vaguely concerned ducky), we finally made our way back into the center of the Eiffel Tower, where we looked around for a few minutes, took a few snaps (because the architecture is gorgeous, despite how much Eiffel got mocked for putting a giraffe in the center of Paris), and then grabbed our tickets (which we had been ever so righteous about and pre-purchased online, which was a good thing, too) and began our trek up.

img_2339In all truth, we were being slackers because we were taking the elevator instead of making ourselves climb the 1,700 stairs of the Eiffel Tower. We blamed it on all the coughing we were (still) doing (I didn’t tell you about the trips to the pharmacies, because those were no fun!), but that was probably only half of it. The other half of it was the idea of climbing that high in the sky was daunting and neither of us were up to even attempting it. So we gave up before we began and took the elevator, which was almost like something out of a steampunk story. Ok, fine. The entire tower would fit in a steampunk story, but no one thinks about that because it is already part of our public consciousness.

Anyway, we crowded into the elevator, and it began going up. Going along with the steampunk theme, there’s a little bit of Willy Wonka, too, as the elevator does not go straight up (which makes sense when you think about it, but you don’t think about it when you’re stepping into an elevator: you just expect it to go up). Instead, it goes diagonally. To go up to the third level (that’s the very tippy top of the tower, where there is also a Very Expensive Restaurant) you have to get on yet another elevator, and that one does go straight up and down. That was sold out, so we decided to cut our losses, and just go to levels one and two, which, as it turned out, were plenty.

img_2349We had to get off on the first level before going to the second, because the elevator goes straight back down from the second level and does not stop at the first. Thus, we piled off and began looking. It was, of course, pretty impressive, but it was also cold (remember, running shoes!) and it was also beginning to mist quite a bit, so we wandered around a bit, then went up to the second level, which included all the tourist-trappy shops and a place to grab some warm drinks (which incidentally also featured the worst coffee I’ve had yet in Paris).

img_2326But the views–well, despite the rain, they were magnificent. You do feel like you’re standing at the top of the city and looking through it all. I am definitely glad we went to the Arc de Triumphe at night, because seeing the Eiffel Tower light show from there was amazing, and I would love to see how the city twinkles at night from the Tower, but if I had to choose, I would go during the day. Granted, it was not particularly clear, but you could still make out the items of interest, and…well, it just all looks so tiny. And I’m fairly sure that’s impressive to people other than myself, despite my tall complex.

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