All of us might wish at times that we lived in a more tranquil world, but we don't. And if our times are difficult and perplexing, so are they challenging and filled with opportunity.

Robert Kennedy

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Spring Vacation Part Deux - Paris

Friday afternoon 5-4-12

I met up with the Jones at King's Cross station in London. We quickly learned that traveling to Paris on a Friday afternoon is the equivalent of LA traffic heading East to Vegas around 5:00 on a Friday. It was a madhouse. After maneuvering through what seemed like hundreds of lines and wheeled suitcases and passport control, we made it on to our train. Juli wasn't exactly 'thrilled' at the prospect of traveling under the English Channel but it went rather quickly and we all survived. It was a quick 3 hour (if that) train ride and all of a sudden I was in France. Just like that. The train pulls in to the Gara du Nord which is near Montmarte, where I had elected to stay. Juli and Jason caught a cab to their hotel and I headed off on foot to my hostel in Montmarte. I was wandering through the streets of Paris...
The directions I had printed out from the internet were not as exact as I had hoped they would be and I couldn't find the hostel. I found a little restaurant and got some food and asked the man in very broken French if he knew where this hostel was. He did. And when I finished my dinner, he walked me up to the street and pointed. I thanked him. He shook my hand and in a thick accent said "welcome to Paris." I'm sorry, but aren't French people supposed to be rude???
I finally arrived and checked in without issue. I went to the elevator and pressed the button to go up to my room. When the door opened, there was Sergio! (Sergio is the Spanish gentleman Kathryn had pointed out at Windsor Castle and Stonehenge) I asked he and his friend if they had just come from London as they had 'accidentally' appeared in my photos. They laughed and said yes. They were students from Madrid. His real name was Juan and his friend was Luis. Yay, friends!
I was staying in a 6 bed dormitory. When I got to the room there was a guy sleeping so I took a shower and promptly went to bed. It was a long day.

Saturday - 5-5-12
I had to wake up early as I was meeting the Jones' as well as the rest of the crew at the top of the Sacre Coeur in Montmarte. I knew it wasn't far so I headed up a little early to grab breakfast. As I sat down for breakfast, this was my view:
Sacre Coeur - Montmarte
After a quick breakfast Crepe, I walked, yes walked, up all those steps and waited for everyone to arrive. I watched a fascinating street performer while talking to a local about the city.

I met up with the Jones, Jules, Daniel and baby Logan and Jules parents who had also arrived for the trip. Logan had the best seat in the house.

Juli had brought along her Rick Steves travel book and he provides walking tours with information so you don't have to participate in paid tours or group tours. It's really quite handy. We love Rick! So we did our own private tour of Montmarte. And it was beautiful. A quiet little village in the north of Paris (filled with tourists) where artists such as Picasso, Degas, Rudin just to name a few spent time in their hey day. It was beautiful. We ended right in front of the Moulin Rouge.

Looking up Montmarte at the Sacre Coeur.

Van Gogh's studio...nbd.

The Two Windmills Cafe from the movie 'Amelie.'

The Moulin Rouge!
From there we headed over to the Eiffel Tower. We had bought tickets ahead of time, thank GOD because there was a REALLY long line to just buy tickets. We waited a total of about an hour to get the elevator to the top. Oh what a view.
Walking towards it.

Looking up it.

A view from the top.
It was great. The elevator rides were a tad claustrophobic and the rain at the top didn't help but how can you complain with this view? As we were walking out we noticed a lot of men with machine guns walking around. A tad unnerving. And we saw a sniper lying in the bushes with his gun pointed toward the Eiffel Tower. Come to find out later that this was the weekend of a very big election in France and they had raised the threat alert and beefed up security at all the major landmarks.
We headed to Jules' hotel so she could check in and decided to have dinner on the Rue Cler. It started pouring rain so we ran into the first restaurant we came across. Fortunately it was delicious and we were all satisfied. I bought a 5 day Metro pass as I knew at the end of every day I would have to maneuver my way back to Montmarte to the hostel. It was about a 45 minute train ride with all the train switching but I did pretty well. It's all color coded so it's much easier than NY to maneuver. I went to bed early.

Sunday 5-6-12

I had to wake up early as we were going to the Louvre museum which had free admission on Sundays. We were quite sure we weren't the only ones with this idea so we decided to meet early. It was a rainy Sunday morning and I was the first one there so I just sat under an awning and gazed at the beautiful entrance while I waited. The line would've been about a 2-3 hour wait but thankfully, with dear little Logan in a stroller, we got priority entrance and were escorted to the front of the line.
The Louvre. What can I say about the Louvre? We were there for about 4 hours and barely say 1/4 of it. But we saw the main things and it is a beautiful place to be.
The entrance to the Louvre

Looking up through the pyramid.

Our golden ticket in, thanks Logan!

Venus de Milo

Mona. (Couldn't get Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters out of my head all day...)

The Crowned Jewels. Not to be missed no matter WHAT is going on in your life.
From the Louvre we headed over to the Love Lock bridge and that is where we met up with Todd and Shannon. Since it was their 25th Anniversary, they were given a lock engraved with their names. The three couples, Juli and Jason, Jules and Daniel and Todd and Shannon, each affixed their lock on the bridge and threw the keys into the river thereby sealing their togetherness. It was adorable.
Jules, Daniel, Shannon, Todd, Juli and Jason about to throw their keys.

The Throw.
We walked through Paris over to the Ile Saint Louis otherwise known as Old Paris. We grabbed a sandwich from a street vendor and walked by Notre Dame and through the streets taking in the sites. It was so relaxing.
Notre Dame

Americans Ahoy!
We stopped at a place called Berthillion for some home made ice cream. After that Jules and her whole family were off to meet an old family friend. So Juli, Jason, Todd, Shannon and I went for a walk. We walked by the Louvre and saw a huge fountain in the Jardin Toulerie with chairs around it. We all just sat down and relaxed for about an hour. It was so pleasant and peaceful, it was probably one of my favorite moments of the trip.
The site where Marie Antoinette was beheaded.

A street charcoal artist.
We wandered into the 'center of Paris' to see the Obelisk from the Egyptians as well as the site of Marie Antoinette's hanging. And then wandered to find a place for dinner. We came upon Laduree which I was going to the next day anyway but we all wanted to try it so we ate there for dinner. It was super delicious although we didn't finish in time to engage in the famous macaroons. It was disappointing but we knew we would be back. From there we headed over to meet up with Jules and her family again so we could take a sightseeing cruise on the Seine called Bateux Mouches. It was a little chilly but it was still nice to see all the sites from a different perspective.
Jules is ready for the cruise.

Eiffel at night.
It was an exhausting day. I got back to the hostel around 10 and just wanted to go to sleep. But Juan, Luis and their other friend Diego were drinking wine in the common room so I wound up hanging out with them for a while. They are very enjoyable.

Monday 5-7-12

Finally, I got to sleep in. This vacation was exhausting. (Poor me.) I woke up around 10:30 and put some laundry in. Yay for dryers! It was so nice to have clean clothes.I had time to shower and charge all my camera batteries and such and since it was later in the morning I had the room all to myself. It felt good to be refreshed.
I made it into the city and went back to Laduree where I was meeting my friend, Bea. We had worked together at Too Faced. She was in charge of all of France and we had struck up a friendship many years prior. We had planned to meet up whenever I was in Paris and here I was. It was so enjoyable to talk to her face to face as the majority of our friendship had been through emails.
Me and Bea.

The infamous Laduree.
From there I walked down the Champs Elysees to meet up with the gang. They were at Sephora, the original Sephora and we just wanted to stroll the street. It is like the Rodeo Drive of Paris. Or I guess Rodeo Drive is the Champs Elysees of Los Angeles. It was fun to window shop and people watch and at the end of the street is the Arc de Triomphe.
Jules at Cartier, her happy place.

The Arc.

I LOVED this guy's snarl. Stayed on his face the whole time.

Logan, such a happy baby.
We all went our own ways for dinner again. Juli, Jason, Todd, Shannon and I went on another walk to see the 'statue of liberty.' From there we found a corner cafe to eat dinner. There was a Subway next door. I may or may not have snuck over for a quick 6 inch sub while I was waiting for dinner...
The Paris Statue of Liberty

The beautiful park walk.

Hot crepes on the side of the road.
Jason had to head back to Montmarte to pick up the rental car for the morning as we were all driving to Versailles so he took the train with me. It was a relatively early evening. As I was walking in to the hostel, the Spanish boys were walking out. They were heading out to a pub across the street for some wine so I joined them. 

Tuesday 5-8-12
I had to be to Juli's hotel at the ass crack of dawn. (yeah, I said it). So I had to get up super early. Having your alarm go off at 6:30am in a hostel room where 5 other people are sleeping does not endear you to them. But oh well. I got there early, yes, impressive. Jules arrived and brought me an egg and bacon Quiche. (Love her) and we all piled in the cars to head out. On the way out of the city we saw a Starbucks and Jules and I insisted on some caffeine. 
It was nice to get out of the city though. And it was so nice to be in a car and on a highway. It's the small pleasures in life. It was a national holiday so we were expecting everything to be crowded and we were right. When we got to Versailles we could tell it would be a day surrounded by a lot of people. 
The palace was beautiful, a little gawdy, but they sure like to overdo it. But Todd actually made a good point, shocker I know. The French architecture is so intricate and exquisite on just basic buildings like a bank that when it comes to a Palace they pretty much have to go over the top. Point one for Todd.

Me in the Hall of Mirrors

The measly side gardens.
After a few hours at Versailles we jumped back into the cars and headed over to Giverny which is the home of Monet and his gardens. It was about an hour drive through the beautiful French Countryside. Shannon and I both fell asleep for a while but when we were awake it sure was lovely.
I would say that Monet's gardens are something out of a painting but...
They're inexplicable. And pictures (or paintings) don't do them justice.
Todd and Shannon. Love these two!

We peacefully drove back to the city and dropped everyone off at their hotels with plans to meet up the next day for one final day together. Since Jason was helping Jules and her family. Juli got stuck with all the bags and looked like the stereotypical American. I just had to take a photo.
She loves me.
It was an early night. I went back to the hostel and dropped my stuff off and I was on a quest for sushi. I walked around Montmarte for about an hour but I found it. And boy did I eat. 
Lots of sushi!

In France when teens get a six pack, they overlook the cityscape.

I headed back and was able to get a good night's sleep.

Wednesday 5-9-12

I awoke early as I had plans to meet Todd and Shannon up in Montmarte for breakfast. We met up and went through the village. We sat at a little cafe overlooking the streets and chatted and spent some time together just the three of us. It was delightful. It started to rain a little bit so the waiter raised the awning over us so we could still enjoy our breakfast crepes and coffees. He was so sweet. I left them and hopped on the train over to the Pere LaChaise cemetery to meet up with the group. Todd and Shannon were going to take a walk around Montmarte while we walked around the cemetery to look at dead people. When I got there I couldn't find the designated meeting point so I was lost in the cemetery for quite a while. I was about to start getting frustrated when I realized if the worst part of my day was getting lost in a cemetery in Paris, things were all right. Finally, I decided to cut my losses and head to the next designated meeting place. As I decided to leave, I ran into Jason and Juli. Fate! They had gone to the Catacombs that morning but they opened an hour later than they had been told. So Jules and her family had decided to head over to the Musee D'Orsay and Juli and Jason headed to the cemetery to try to find me. Juli had her handy Rick Steves Book so she successfully guided us to the graves we wanted to see. And the cemetery really was beautiful, as cemeteries go.
Oscar Wilde

Edith Piaf


Jim Morrison


Heloise and Abelard. A fascinating story we learned about.
I'm really glad that we found each other and got to see everything we wanted to see. From there we went our separate ways. Juli and Jason wanted to have a relaxing afternoon and I really wanted to go to the Paris Opera House.
The Paris Opera House was just as beautiful as I thought it would be. I wish there was a guided tour but instead I got to wander around for a few hours and just take it in by myself. The best part is there was a rehearsal in progress. So I sat on a bench outside the auditorium and closed my eyes and listened to an aria. It was a fantastic moment.


Then I headed over to Juli's hotel room to get changed for our fancy evening. Juli had booked us a reservation at a restaurant called Le Grande Cascade for Jules' birthday. I was very excited.
The view from Juli's hotel room.
They served us a multi-course meal along with champagne and French bread. I could go through each course and describe it but I'm not going to because it was just something tht the 10 of us shared and it was an intensely happy moment for all of us. It was a great way to say goodbye to Paris.
So for my first time in Paris, I do love that city. Not as much as London, I am madly in love with London but Paris is a lot of fun. Plus I also learned, well not so much learned as was reminded just how lucky I am to have made such a great group of friends that they would travel across the world just to see me. (OK, I'm not that arrogant, I know I wasn't the sole purpose of their journey...) It was the trip of a lifetime.
The Ladies at Versailles.

Arc de Triomphe

The whole group at Giverny, Monet's Gardens.

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