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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The Coypu of the Eiffel Tower

We (finally) circled back around to the Eiffel Tower and all the exciting things associated with it, this time with tickets in hand. We had already taken a variety of pictures at the Eiffel Tower, including the obligatory one where we held something between our lips and noses so we appeared to have mustaches, but we had yet to actually ascend the tower. Now, with tickets in hand, we planned to do exactly that.

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The coypu in its natural (ish?) habitat

But then again, this is us, and we can’t seem to do much of anything in a proper order without finding some strange distraction to get caught up in. Today that distraction happened to be some of the water to the side of the tower, which included a strange furry thing that vaguely looked like an otter, a beaver, and a few other animals we couldn’t quite place. Thus we did what any intelligent individual would do, and hung around making kissy noises at it. It was vaguely interested in us, then, after ascertaining we had nothing of value to give (translation: we weren’t holding any interesting food products) it wandered off, leaving us to follow it at a distance while we googled furiously and tried to snap pictures. After probably a bit too long, we finally got a good picture of the animal in question, and after a bit more googling, we discovered what it was.

It was a coypu.

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Long-range shot of the perp

Coypu are apparently fairly common, and they’re also an invasive species, which means nobody much likes them because they destroy things that otherwise do beneficial things. In this case, it is basically a giant, fluffy rat that eats pretty much everything (because, you know, normal rats are so picky about what they put in their mouths and all that). Thus we had, essentially, spent a half hour chasing a weird rodent that nobody wanted around anyway.

But it was cute, and cute matters, especially at the Eiffel Tower.

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The Question of Frozen Ground and Running Shoes

To go back to the beginning of our trip, a long time ago, when we had randomly shoved lots of clothes into our backpacks and hoped they would suffice, we had not thought much about shoes. Mainly, we both wore the pairs that were on our feet at the time, and had not packed any other pairs. Which meant that, well, we were both wearing running shoes. For everything. This had not been much of a problem at places like Disneyland, where we were actively involved in doing things both inside and out, although we had gotten a little cold. It had not, either, been an issue when we were at the Louvre and spend the majority of our day inside looking at stuff. Now, however, we were beginning to spend more time outside, and the temperature was steadily dropping. The end result of this, then, was that we, well, were getting cold.

Sports socks and running shoes do not work well in frozen temperatures. We were quickly finding that out. And now, we were beginning to face the question of if we wanted to buy socks and have warm feet, or if we wanted to just tough it out as we were almost done, and then we would be home, with all of our shoes. Besides, I’m the girl who was wearing flipflops into December in Cork. I should be fine in running shoes in Paris, right?

The days were starting to test that resolve. The other issue, too, was that both of us had come with only a backpack. Anything we bought had to somehow fit back into that backpack, or we would have to leave it behind. After some thoughtful consideration, a review of the fact that we had splurged and bought books, and the fact that each of our backpacks probably weigh somewhere between 40 and 50 kg (that’s around a hundred pounds). If we were going to buy shoes, that would mean we were buying boots, which would probably add another kg or two to our individual weights. And neither of us were in the mood to shed anything.

At the same time, we also had made our official reservation for our Big Splurge (a fancy schmancy restaurant, if you please), and the part of us that makes us fashion aware was hating the fact that we would be wearing semi-nice things to a really nice restaurant with running shoes. Because that totally fits and makes sense. So on the other hand, we should get nice shoes.

But then we would still freeze.

Finally, we gave up and decided to try to go one more day without getting new shoes. We’ll be off for the Eiffel Tower. We’ll see how cold we get.

 

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Help, My Pizza Has Raw Egg On It

After having spent far more time at museums than we originally planned to (whoops), we wound our way back through the metro toward our humble little abode, only to arrive and realize that, well, we were hungry. Like, really hungry. To make matters more difficult, it wasn’t exactly the Normal European Dinner Time, but we weren’t willing to wait for that, as we, well, were still sick and wanted to sleep (we’re wondering if we actually had two different things and just swapped diseases). So we decided to try a little restaurant right close to our hostel.

It was a little Italian place called Casa Nostra, we found, and the majority of the seating was designed to be outdoors (as is common), although this particular place also had a sort of loft/second floor, which gave them a bit more indoor seating (and protection from the weather). The food smelled quite good, although we were the only people in the restaurant (which is a very odd feeling). So we settled in and began perusing our menus, and finally decided the the appropriate thing to do in an Italian restaurant in France would be to…order pizza. I chose a sort of generic veggie and chicken one, and MK decided on one with a variety of breakfast toppings like ham and…egg.

But, hey, it sounded interesting, so we might as well try it, right? Right.

No. Bad idea. You see, what arrived looked something like this:

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Mine’s the one closest. MK’s is the one farther away (note the fancy knife on the napkin). That thing in the middle is the egg. Of which the white was just barely cooked, and the yolk was entirely raw.

Now, this wouldn’t be the first time either of us had raw egg. Raw egg is not just a breakfast thing in Europe. It’s also a soup thing and a dinner thing and if you aren’t careful it might pop up somewhere bizarre like in a dessert. Or a pizza. Which raises a question. How do you eat a pizza with a raw egg on it?

You can’t cut it, or the yolk will get everywhere. You can’t take a slice and fold it in on itself like you might in New York. And so we ended up sitting and staring at it, trying to determine exactly how she should attack it, during which time the egg made the pizza under it begin to get soggy. MK finally gave up and attacked it with knife and fork, like some wayward Eggs Benedict that was too big for its britches. It was a gruesome, messy, sight.

But she ate it, and she thought it was actually quite good, despite its awkwardness. Mine was, too, so we paid the tab and retreated back to our hostel for the evening, and all was well.

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The Mona Lisa Decision

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The new approach to the Louvre (that we would descend a level whenever we met with a stairway or other means of downward conveyance) helped us speed up quite a bit, but we had come to the hard realization

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The first selfie captured on a smartphone, sometime B.C.E.

that we would not, in fact, be able to see two museums in one day. We weren’t even going to see all of one museum in a day. We were going to see, at best, a quark of a museum. Maybe two. Anyway, as we descended and kept heading southwest (we had started in the northeastern corner), we finally found our way into some interesting archaeological things, but, becoming strongly aware of time and exactly how tired we were (remember, we started out the trip being sick for several days), we did not linger too long, since we were both fairly sure we could close out the museum there.

 

 

So we moved on. And we’re glad we did.

 

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Not quite sure where St. George is….

After descending yet another staircase, we walked through an arch and discovered ourselves in one of the most impressive areas yet. It was a courtyard of sorts, but with a glass dome over the top, and it was filled with statues. Some were carved, some were cast, but all were remarkably interesting. Some were of remounted onto small walls, obviously having lived in another setting. Apparently nearly all of the pieces in this area had at one time lived outdoor lives, but had been moved in to help preserve them. MK, being the huge fan of carving and sculpting that she is, was perfectly in her element. Meanwhile, I got to experience the normal average person response by looking at most things and going “cool” and then being ready to move on (which in museums is, well, rare). I mean some of it was really cool and complicated and…I just don’t have what it takes to properly appreciate it, for which I am sorry.

 

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Athena is absolutely beautiful. No idea what’s going on with her bowstring, but oh well. 

I did, however, realize that the Louvre has windows (not a new realization, I could see them from the outside, but it was a new that I could see them from the inside) and discovered that, well, one could see the Eiffel Tower from the Louvre even better when you’re inside than when you’re standing on the cold pavers outside. So I started taking pictures out of windows, which was fun. And then I stumbled across Athena, who is basically beautiful, and of whom there were some lovely carvings. I was looking back through both MK and my pictures, and you can tell that we were standing side by side when we took them. Of course, there are probably thousands of pictures because thousands of people have walked through there and looked at that same exact carving, but, eh, who cares. It was pretty.

 

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Basically, I need these chairs, forever and always. Think how much easier partying is when you can sit and have a chat and not have to lean over each other! On the other hand…always looking right….

When we finally got down to the lower levels, we were able to walk through Napoleon’s apartments, which, after being vacated, had been moved into the Louvre. Supposedly they’re accurate. I’m just over here wondering if they reconstructed the rooms with the original artifacts, or if they just picked up the rooms and plugged them in to the building. The first is probably the most likely, but the second does add credence to my build-a-room-around-a-painting thought. Also, Napoleon had chairs three people could sit in at the same time so they could all carry conversations on with each other. Other than that, it was a lot of gold and shiny things, and a spiral staircase. Strangely, I was more enchanted with the spiral staircase. At least the carpet here doesn’t yell at you to get off of it, like it does in Hearst Castle.

 

After we finished that, we retreated to the bookstore, which is basically located in the center of everything, and then MK had a stunning revelation.

We had yet to see the Mona Lisa.

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The Eiffel Tower, from one of the upper windows of the Louvre. That is a model of the Arc de Triumph in the foreground, not the actual Arc.

“I don’t wanna see the Mona Lisa,” I said. “It’s the most-copied piece of artwork in this place.”

“But we can see it in detail!”

“Pull it up on your phone or computer. It’s probably the most scanned piece of artwork in here, too.”

“Come on, don’t you want to say you’ve seen the Mona Lisa?”

“I have, in pretty much every textbook that even thinks about mentioning the Renaissance.”

“But not in person!”

“Everyone is going to be trying to see it. This place closes in like twenty minutes!”

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Perhaps my favorite picture of the day.

And we went round, and round, and round, and round. Until MK finally broke down and told me a story, which went something along the lines of the fact that her family had once been traveling, and some male relative had the chance to see the Mona Lisa, and basically walked by, didn’t even realize it was there, and got teased mercilessly, and she was not going to let that be her and Lisa’s experience. I, being the helpful human I am, pointed out we had never even gone into that wing, so there was absolutely no chance she could have just walked by, and that if she was really concerned, she should fib about it. But she insisted on seeing it anyway, so off we went again.

 

When we finally got to That Room, it was full. You can see the Mona Lisa, carefully protected high above everyone’s head, and of a postage stamp size (this is how you know I, Wren, have seen the Mona Lisa). I mentioned all of this, and hoped that would be good enough. Unfortunately it wasn’t, because I’m tall, which allows me to see over people, and MK is, well, not tall at all. I refused to be dragged into That Room, so she went off on her own to try and get a picture, and I loitered around waiting. She eventually returned.

“You’re right,” she said. “It’s basically the size of a postage stamp. Let’s go find some food somewhere.”

And that concluded our (free) day at the Louvre.

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