Saturday, August 8, 2009

Paris I: Plat de Jour

After my dutiful and detailed daily posts in London, we were cut off abruptly in Paris as our flat had wi-fi but we neglected to bring a European converter plug for the laptop so the battery died. I am sure that all my readers were simply at a loss to begin their day without an update from me, but it was sort of a blessing, honestly -- no e-mail, no fantasy baseball stats, nothing to do in the evenings but wander the Luxembourg Gardens, eat gelato, and drink wine. Which are three ingredients for a pretty perfect vacation, if you ask me.

Of course I kept a written record of the trip so I will recreate each day for you in the present tense as if I had posted it while we were there (you are thrilled!).

And so it began with the Eurostar train ride from London to Paris. Relatively uneventful, we were dropped of at the Gare du Nord train/metro station and suddenly felt like we were in a foreign country. Which we were. Obviously. It was a little overwhelming and I suddenly realized that we were taking the metro to an apartment and I really had no idea where it was located (I did know it had a blue door -- thanks, Google Maps Street View!).

David in front of the blue doors of #5 Rue Brea. Looking cute with the man-bag (I insisted that lugging around camera, maps, guidebook, etc., was an equal opportunity job).

So we hopped on the (slightly stinky, slightly seedy, not nearly as nice as the London Underground) metro line #4 and hopped off at Vavin. We are staying at an apartment that belongs to the woman who was our tour guide in Italy last summer. Or, as I like to say very casually, "We're staying at our friends' Kate and Markus's flat. It's on Rue Brea, near the Luxembourg Gardens."

We managed to find the apartment (hey blue doors!) and Markus was there to meet us and help lug my suitcase up four flights of winding stairs (Paris apartments: not for weenies). It was a 4th floor walk up with no air conditioning and it was the most beautiful place. Huge windows with real shutters thrown open to see the bustling little shopping area of Rue Brea and Rue Vavin and the Jardin du Luxembourg. Lots of cafes and tiny markets and ridiculously expensive boutiques selling soap and perfume and clothing and especially children's fashion.

The living room -- isn't is so cute?

Once we settled in, we were a little giddy about the fact that we'd successfully navigated our way from London to Paris and we busted open the bottle of champagne that our lovely hosts had left for us "A bit of fizzy for you in the fridge!"
View from the living room window.

Then we walked down the street to the grocery store to buy some necessities (ie. cheese. wine. baguette.) and I marveled at how many children's clothing stores there were. And how darling all the little clothes were. We couldn't figure out if we were just in a super family-friendly neighborhood (our proximity to the Jardin du Luxembourg and its vast superplayground suggests yes) or what, but then I read that France is the only country is Europe who is not currently experiencing a population decline. The French are averaging two children per family while the rest of Europe is averaging 1.6. The success of French fertility is evidently due in part to extremely generous tax breaks that families get for having two kids -- generous enough to dress them in the latest fashion, evidently. And don't even get me started on the shoes...

So once we made it back from the store and ate something, we decided to hit the Eiffel Tower. We timed it to be up there at sunset (which isn't until 9:30pm-ish) and would have been early except for -- you guessed this -- the ridiculously long queue.

We met a lot of Americans in line for the Eiffel Tower and wandering at the top, which was covenient for asking someone to take our picture. I felt like the signage was sort of shabby (we were constantly asking each other "Is this the elevator to the very top? What do you think this queue is for? Why are people standing here?") but maybe the signage was very good if you spoke French. Which no one touring the Eiffel Tour did, it seemed to me.

We splurged for the tickets that went all the way to the tip-top. I don't have a huge fear of heights, and once we got up there we soaked in the view and I insisted on saying things like "Isn't this soooo romantic?" and "We'll always have Paris!" and then making David kiss me as we stood shoulder-to-shoulder with a zillion other tourists, bumping into us and squeezing by to take pictures. We were so far up that it almost didn't seem real. But the elevator ride up was stomach-dropping. We just kept going and going and going and finally I started clutching David's arm as the ground just kept dropping farther and farther away from us and finally I had to quit looking out and just focus on the sign that said "BEWARE OF THE PICKPOCKETS."

I guess views like this are worth the price of admission.

But really it was like a dream to be at the top of the Eiffel Tower. I was surprised it was not windy. After freezing in London, Paris was like a summer dream -- all sunshine and warmth with a splash of body odor now and again just to keep it real.

At the top -- a perfect example of some nerd-o tourist way up in our personal space.

We went to the second floor and were able to recognize some of the major landmarks from there, thanks to helpful wall signs, of course. Otherwise I would have pointed to everything and said "Is that Napoleon's tomb?" as I did until David directed me to the wall signs.

When we left the tower, we crossed over to the place de Trocadero and mingled with the people who were hanging out. There was some singing and a big crowd of people gathered around what looked like an entrance to a theater. Someone came up to us and asked (in English) what was going on but we never found out. Then the crowd broke into song and I don't know if it was planned or spontaneous (I would guess planned, as many of them seemed to have music books). Either way, it seemed sort of strange and French.

The view of the Eiffel Tower from there was amazing and just as we decided to hike back to the metro stop, they did some sort of crazy light show where the entire tower (which was glowing already) just started sparkling and glittering and everyone stopped and looked and oohed and aahed. It was impossible to get a good picture of the sparkle, but we asked some very nice Canadians to take a picture of us in front of the glowing tower.

OMG we are in Paris!

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