Thursday, July 19, 2012

5 Secretly Awesome Things About Paris

OK, so I gave you the 5 best things about Paris, these are 5 secretly awesome things about Paris.  Some of them are more secret than others, but all of them are excellent.

1.) The Roof at Printemps.
Printemps is a department store.  Department store sounds so...plebian in English.  It's a very beautiful, very old department store in Paris.  It has a giant stained glass dome and some gold leafed turrets.  (This is not any old department store.)  On the roof there is a cafe.  The cafe has some of the best views of Paris.  The cafe sells wine.  What more could you possibly want??
(Yes, a giant freak thunderstorm is about to descend on us.  But that's rosé in the foreground and the Eiffel Tower in the background and therefore we just don't care!)
You can see the Eiffel Tower on one side and l'Opera on the other.  So beautiful!
If you are in Paris, I highly recommend soaking in the view from this rooftop.  Get some wine and embrace la vie Parisienne!

2.) The Love Locks
There are a couple of bridges in Paris mysteriously covered in locks.  The locks are known as the "love locks" and tradition has it that a couple will attach a lock to the bridge and throw the keys overboard to seal their romance.  However if it goes badly, the only way to escape your love is to get back the key and remove the lock from the bridge, nearly impossible if the keys are at the bottom of the river.

Apparently, the Pont des Arts is for your committed love while the Pont de l'Archeveque is for your lover.  So, on the night after we went to the Eiffel Tower, we went over to the Pont des Arts and hung our lock!  We picked up a plain brass lock from the local hardware store and we etched our initials in with a pocket knife.  It's a little hard to see but here is our lock:
Fred placing our lock with the Pont Neuf in the background:
 Me kissing the key before throwing overboard!
This was a lovely and sweet tradition and I'm happy we got to take part in it.  Long live the locks!
3.) Dehillerin
Dehillerin is the mother of all kitchenware stores.  Julia Child used to shop here when she lived in Paris.  In her autobiography she describes the lovely rows of copper cookware and how she made friends with the owner.
I get the feeling not a lot has changed since Julia's day.  The store reminds me a lot of my favorite hardware store in Seattle, long narrow halls containing a million things you might possibly need.  Downstairs in the basement we discovered soup pots so large I could have easily gotten inside some of them.  Copper dishes for everything from fish to crepes and ladles of a dozen sizes and uses.
Here you can buy a pizza paddle taller than I am!
We wound up with a couple of excellent knives, an olive wood juice reamer and I couldn't resist getting some very tiny tart dishes for a friend.  Look at all the sizes!
I could make a Bundt cake the size of a quarter! 

If you're in Paris I highly recommend going here.  It's very authentic and you almost feel like you could run into Julia around every corner.

4.) Rowing on the Grand Canal at Versailles
By far and away one of my favorite things we did on our trip was going for a rowboat ride on the Grand Canal at Versailles.  Between all the movies set at Versailles and the previous trips here made at critical times in my life (like age 16, hello teen years), I have had romantic notions about boating on the Grand Canal for about a decade.  On this trip, I made my teenage girl fantasies come true.  I was rowed out on the canal by a handsome and debonair gentleman who brought out tiny bottles of wine when we got out to the middle, and you guys, we totally kissed!  (I know, OMG!)  It was exactly as thrilling as I wanted it to be!
So handsome, so quick with the wine!  
Trailing my fingers in the water, pretending to be Marie Antoinette, and generally being the happiest person on earth.
SO happy.  The view of Versailles just reminds you how massive it is:
To top it all off, there were even baby swans!  Cygnets!
Versailles was great, but picnicing on the Grand Canal was priceless.

5.) The Travel Miracle - Diner en Blanc
This one was totally unplanned, it was just one of those travel miracles that sometimes happen.  (So I can't really recommend it for other travelers, but if you run into it, just go with it.)  One night while wandering along the bank of the Seine, we suddenly found ourselves completely surrounded by people in white clothing.  There were probably 200 people in the street and tour buses were dropping off a continual flood of more.  We got swept up in the crush and wound up in the square in front of Notre Dame.  The square completely filled with a crowd all in white.

Turns out, this is the phenomenon known as "Diner en Blanc".  It was started by a Parisian guy in the late 80's, who had just returned to the city after several years spent living elsewhere.  He was living in a tiny apartment but he wanted to have a big party to celebrate with all his various friends so he told them all to meet in the Bois du Boulogne for a fancy picnic and to wear white so they could recognize each other.  The event occurred annually ever after and has grown to huge proportions in Paris. 

Each participant or each group of participants is in charge of bringing their own table and chairs, linen, china, glassware, silverware, food, wine and preferably some candles or an arrangement of flowers.  Every. single. person. has a tablecloth.  This is my kind of party!
The party got started with everyone setting up their tables in long rows.  Fred and I got some gyros and a bottle of wine and sat on a bench at the edge of the square.  Dinner began, amidst lots of toasting (and some napkin swinging as below.)
There was a brass band that serenaded the group through dinner (also wearing white, of course.)  As dusk fell, the sky turned a deep azure.
Someone started singing happy birthday to one girl on our far side.  They lit a sparkler and stuck it in a cake.  Suddenly every person lit a sparkler and the whole square was full of glittering light.
Notre Dame has never been so beautiful.  Or so festive!
Near our little spot a DJ suddenly started spinning dance music and a wild dance party ensued.  (Yes, that guy is dancing, shouting into his phone and smoking a cigar at the same time, while wearing a white cashmere scarf and sweater.  Only in Paris.)
Travel miracles can't be planned, they just swoop in.  We feel so lucky that we were able to see this little piece of Parisian magic happen. 
So that's it for Paris.  There are a million photos that I haven't posted, meals I haven't talked about, architecture I haven't analyzed in depth, but I think it's time to move on to talking about our sojourn in the French countryside.  Next up, a tiny car, a bad map and an amazing party!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012


Forgive me for not posting, I've been in Paris.  That sounds so smug, I don't think you should forgive me at all!

The husband and I just got back from a trip to France for our second anniversary.  It was amazing.  We spent one week in Paris and one week in the Loire Valley so let's start with Paris.

Top 5 Things We Loved About Paris:
1.) Parks and Picnics.  There are too many parks in Paris to rave about them all here.  We did a hearty parks-n-picnics tour.  First stop, les Tuileries:
 Me and the boat pond.  Unfortunately, the boats are a little hard to see in this pic, but they were so charming they warranted their own photo:
This old man rents them out to children for a nominal fee and I think may have done so for about 200 years.
Here we are at a picnic spot and what's that I spy in the background?
Should be trite by now, but somehow it's still magical. 
A couple of days later we went to the Rodin museum which gave ample opportunity for an excellent picnic.  This was our view from picnicage:
This guy was also in our view:
Nice work, Rodin.  Not too shabby.  Rodin actually lived at this palace, with several other artists.  The picnicing was excellent:
We brought wine and actual cups!

Although it wasn't quite sunny enough to really enjoy the teak loungers in the back of the garden, I sure gave it my all..
We had our last meal in Paris as a picnic at the park at one end of Ile de la Cite.
So beautiful. 

Pretty much rinse-repeat here.  We had a lot of picnics, and half of them went un-photographed in the sheer delight of the moment.  Perfect.

2.) The Eiffel Tower.  We did this as almost the last thing on our Paris tour, but it was perfect.  I know that le Tour Eiffel is viewed by many to be touristy and heinous.  I still think it is total magic.
It made me want to kiss.  A lot.
We walked up to the second level of the Tour and then took the elevator up.  At the top, we got the last two glasses of champagne out of the champagne stand.  Best pre-anniversary ever!
(So happy I think every one of my teeth are showing in that photo.) 

Did you know that after dark the Eiffel Tower sparkles every hour on the hour?  We caught some of the sparkle action from the second story.
And back down:
Gah!  Still so beautiful.  It was really fun to visit this monument with another engineer and nerd out about iron and the construction and the names of all the French scientists and engineers around the base.  Nerd-love, love-nerd.  (Also very fun to visit this monument with someone you want to make out with.  Can't recommend that enough.)

3.) Art Museums.  Paris is (of course) the great-grandaddy of all museum cities.  I think the husband could have spent a year in the Louvre.  (Let's be honest, even to an art lover like myself it FELT like we spent a year in the Louvre.)  Photographing art is a little like dancing about architecture.  Pictures like this one:
Don't even come close to capturing the urgency of the motion and the clarity of the water dampened gauzy garments that stick to the body about to spring into flight.  So, no more art photographs.  OK, well there is this one little ceiling in the Louvre that I'm obsessed with...
Well, the Louvre was, after all, a palace.  What would you expect?  After a full day at the Louvre, the husband took this pic of me looking a bit peaked.
We have a hilarious family story about my mother falling asleep in the Louvre while my dad perused the art on their honeymoon.  When the security guard woke her up and told her she couldn't sleep there she pointed despairingly at my dad and said "but this is my honeymoon and he is my husband!"  After viewing the art-struck look on my dad's face, the security guard told her to go ahead and sleep.  Our family history is totally repeating itself...

We loved the Louvre but I think we both loved the Musee d'Orsay more.  The Musee d'Orsay is specifically reserved for 19th century art.  A.K.A. the new stuff.  A.K.A. the impressionists.  It's also housed in a gorgeous old train station that they almost tore down in the 1970's. 
Because tearing all this down seems like a fabulous idea?  Hmm.  It's filled with impressionist art that so blew my mind that I didn't take a single picture.  Imagine rooms filled with Monet and Degas and Renoir.  It's exactly as you imagine.

4.) Churches.  In the immoral words of Snoop Dogg, from the church to da palace.  The churches in Paris are legendary.  We did Notre Dame first.  (Sorry to anyone who has been to Paris as the next photos will bore you to tears.)  This is what it looks like from the outside:
Like a before-and-after the outside-and-inside comparison is pretty striking.  Outside:
Bam!  Oh the gorgeousness that 500 years of construction can bring. 

We went up to the top to hang out with the gargoyles.
(This is one of my favorite pics.  Can you spot the Eiffel Tower?)  They also have a bell tower with me-sized doors!

We went to a bunch of other churches, St. Severin, St. Sulpice and my favorite, Sacre Coeur.  St. Severin was a new one for me, but we loved it.  I loved the stained glass:
Fred loved the organ:
OK, enough of that.  They're churches.  And they're gorgeous.  You should go see them.  Don't miss the organ at St. Severin, if you're lucky they'll be having organ practice which is amazing.
5.) Our Apartment.  We LOVED staying in this gorgeous little apartment in the Latin Quarter.  It's owned by a friend-of-a-friend and staying there was a total miracle.  Quiet yet easy to get to, it was a perfect home away from home.  Pics of us enjoying our home away from home:
OK, that's me about to enjoy a meringue the size of my head, but you can see our charming french windows and the charming courtyard in the background.
This is the view of that couch that I'm sitting on.  Note the original half timbered ceiling, apparently the apartment was built in the 14th century?  Makes me embarrassed for harping on about the newspaper from 1900 in our walls in Seattle.  1900 is straight up modern by French standards.  The bed is in a little nook to the right of this shot, but my pictures of it made it look like a cell, which it definitely was NOT.  It was the most charming snugglenest that ever happened, and I'm just going to let your imaginations fill in the Parisian details of adorableness.

OK, those were our top 5 things about Paris.  Paris was everything that is romantic, elegant, impressive and old.  We loved it.  I still have so many great pics to show you that the next post may be 5 Secretly Awesome Things about Paris!  Stay tuned!