Saturday, June 7, 2014

Ah, Paris

Saturday 26 April

Ciao Italy
So, the night train was just…horrible :P It didn’t start out that way. We boarded the train in Venice with an American mother and her children. The five of us had a fun time trying to figure out how the bunks worked in our sleeper cabins.

In our cabin was just Preston and I, but when we asked the conductor…he said the train was full after Milan. Drat!!

We slowly made our way to Milan…it took about four hours. We were quite comfortable until then. We ate our dinner sandwiches, read, and enjoyed the sunset from the train. I used the provided sheets to make up our designated bunks. During the day, the car has seats, but the seats pull out and open to make beds. We noticed that the bottom bunk appeared to be broken. I was on the top bunk and Preston was in the bunk just below me. There were 6 bunks in all in the VERY tiny space.

In Milan, our peaceful time ended. Hundreds of people crowded onto the train. Preston and I were joined by 4 Italian speaking men of various ages. None of these men were friendly or courteous. Mostly, the general disposition of our new friends was grumpy :-/

As luck would have it, a rather big man was designated for the broken bottom bunk. This became a problem. While all the cabins around us were shutting their doors and turning out the lights for the night (it was nearly midnight by this point), our grumpy crew stood in the hall with the door open and the lights shining in while complaining LOUDLY in Italian.  

Eventually one of the men came and climbed into the top bunk and proceeded to lie on his side while staring at me with a creepy grin. He offered me part of a croissant. I tried to refuse, but he insisted and continued to stare at me until I offered my croissant piece to Preston and introduced him as my husband. I now understand why I had the option for an all female car when I was booking :-/ Creepy!!

FINALLY, after HOURS of this complaining and arguing…someone agreed to switch with the big man.

It was a restless night. The cabin was insanely small, cramped, crowded, stale, and smelly. It was just me with 5 men…luckily ONE of them was my husband!!

My bunk was full of springs that poked through my back and it was stifling hot. Preston kept cracking the window to let in fresh air, but the flip side of that was that it was very loud with the window open. I’d choose being able to breathe fresh air over loud train noises any day, but one of the guys in the cabin felt differently. Every time that Preston would open the window…this guy would violently KICK it shut!! I thought there might be an actual fight, but it just went on silently through the night :-/

It was so awkward and uncomfortable. I lay in my bunk facing the wall for as long as possible, but most people got up early and reverted to standing and talking in the hall.

Since we had stopped so often, Preston and I asked if we were in Paris as we pulled into the station and the men in our cabin made fun of us and told us we were in Italy still and definitely made some comments about “ Stupid Americans” with lots of eye rolls :-/ Dissed.

Either way, we WERE in Paris. We got off the godforsaken train. It’s really a toss up in my mind whether this train or the night ferry in Greece would win for worst experience :P

We exited the train station into the rain and cold. Pres and I were able to locate the bus we needed easily enough, but had to wait a while in the chilly rain. The bus was SO crowded and though we were only four stops from where we needed to be; we kept being pushed with our HUGE bags further into the bus. I honestly thought we’d NEVER be able to exit the bus, but somehow we managed it and I only had to hit a few people with my bag ;)

Paris is arranged into 20 districts or arrondissements that circle out from the center of the city. Preston and I were staying in the 13th. The apartment we rented through Airbnb was cozy and comfortable with one bedroom, a sitting room, and a small kitchen. We could see the Eiffel Tower from the window :D

We went to the grocery store to stock up on supplies and spent the day watching movies.

Around 6pm, Preston’s childhood friend Gavin came over with wine. Gavin is living in Paris while completing a Master’s program. We shared the bottle and took the metro to Mara’s place in the 7th arrondissement near the Eiffel Tower!! Mara is the sister of Preston’s best friend Slavko. Mara is my age and has been living in Paris since attending college here years ago. I wish I’d thought of going to school someplace like Paris!! She now speaks fluent French and has a great job living in the city.

It was awesome to have Gavin along to navigate the metro system and for the first time in a LONG time…I didn’t have to think at all about where we needed to go!!

We exited the metro near Les Invalides, which is a beautiful complex of buildings with a gleaming gold dome that serve as museums and a hospital/retirement home for war veterans.

Reprieve from the rain!!
We crossed a park and saw the beautiful Eiffel Tower before finding Mara’s apartment.

The four of us hung out in Mara’s little apartment, which she has decorated in a bohemian style. It’s so cute and comfortable. We enjoyed delicious appetizers and wine. This leads me to my new most FAVORITE thing: tarama. Tarama (sp?) is a pink, fish roe dip that you eat with blinis (little pancake things). It sounds disgusting, but I promise you that it’s creamy and divine. This was the start of a love affair that has continued, unhindered, to this day.

Hello there, Lover

We ordered Japanese from the restaurant downstairs. It has been too long since we’ve had sushi. YUM.

Gavin led us home and we were grateful to finally get a good night’s rest.

Boyhood friends wrastlin on the metro :P

Sunday 27 April
It’s soooooo nice to have an apartment again!! We are weary from traveling for so long and so spent allllll day inside-reading, watching movies, and eating (I had to go get some tarama). The rain pouring down made us feel less guilty about being so lazy!!

Around 5, we walked over to a popular street-Saint Germain to meet Mara and Gavin.

Even in the rain, it’s beautiful to walk around Paris.  We met Mara first and enjoyed two glasses of wine in a café before walking up the street to meet Gavin.

So European in his scarf (borrowed from Mara)

Gavin chose for us a cheap and delicious Basque restaurant for dinner. The meals were all skillet cooked and yummy. I had cheesy potatoes and Preston had some sort of steak and potatoes. We had wine and chatted until around 11pm or so. 

It’s funny how late people eat dinner here!! The restaurant was more crowded at 11pm than when we had showed up around 9pm.

Preston and I walked home and enjoyed the charm of Paris in the dark.

Monday 28 April
We had another lazy morning. When you eat dinner around just kind of happens :P It’s been much needed!! We were thinking of going to the Louvre, but decided to try for it another day. We spent most of the day researching the possibility of returning to Europe after we go home in May for a wedding.

Preston was invited to be in his best friend Slavko’s wedding. Understandably, this was not something that he wanted to miss. We had a hard time planning our trip to be for 6 months, because of this wedding in May and another wedding that Preston was in back in December.

Since I had enough frequent flier miles to return us to Europe and we have some money left…we decided to extend our trip back in Europe through July.

I’m a little nervous how to make it work on extremely limited funds, but I think we can do it!! I’m just not done traveling yet!!

Gavin came over in the evening with more wine and his French girlfriend Dian. We enjoyed wine and snacks before walking down along the River Seine to a jazz club near where we had dinner last night. Luckily the sky was clearing and it was gorgeous along the river.

The hilariously small elevator in our building :D

On the way, some old gypsy lady came up and PUSHED Preston as we were waiting to cross the street. It was strangely aggressive!! I walked away to escape her wrath, but Preston ended up giving her a few euros. Haha!!  I guess her tactic worked?

The men working a little crepe stand across the street thought the whole thing was hilarious!! We laughed with them and ordered some crepes, which we ate on the sidewalk before entering the jazz club.

Creppppeeeeeessss Mmmmm

The jazz place was an old, narrow, dark bar with old posters and red drapes. It felt sooooo Parisian. The back room was for the three person jazz band. Jazz in this club is a serious business and you will be chastised for talking during the set. The music was great.

STILL wrestling

Here is a video from the jazz club :D

After the first set, Preston and I wanted to stay, but Gavin and Dian were ready to go. It all got a bit complicated :p, so we just decided to all leave together.

On the way home, we walked through a bustling square full of people. Dian said it was a popular area for students. All the streets leading up to the square were lively and bursting with people too. Paris is so awake at night :)

Tuesday 29 April
We actually got ourselves up and out of the apartment today :P Gavin came over and we walked out into the city. It was cloudy, but not raining!! Yay.

We strolled through the open and airy Jardin de Plantes and across the river into the Marais in the 3rd and 4th arrondissements. The Marais is an old district of Paris that was historically aristocratic and now home to a large Jewish population.

The area is trendy and hip and full of second hand shops. We got gigantic and delicious falafel wraps from a walk-up window and enjoyed them on the street. We needed forks to eat the inside of the wraps!!

We started to walk along the streets towards Montmartre. Montmartre is in the 18th and sits on a hill overlooking the rest of Paris. The famous Basilica of the Sacre Coeur with its steps and domed roof is here. Montmartre is also historically famous as an artist district. Dozens of notable and famous artists spent time living and creating their work on this hill.

We stopped at a few second hand shops along the way. Preston was in heaven :D 

It was a long walk and we stopped once for coffee and a second time for some bottles of wine to enjoy on the steps of Sacre Coeur.

The streets climbed gradually towards Montmartre. The sky started to cloud over.

After climbing the steps to reach Sacre Coeur (whew!! Out of breath), we dropped down on the steps to enjoy our wine. We took some pictures and enjoyed the incredible view.

Gavin had been confident that other people would be drinking wine on the steps (apparently, is a thing). We needed to borrow a wine opener, but no one seemed to have one.

We gathered ourselves and strolled through the artist’s village and watched the painters at work. One friendly artist from Argentina called Preston out as an American (around the world people just KNOW that Preston is American). Preston confirmed that he was from Chicago and the artist yelled “Mafia!!”. Haha!!

The three of us finally found someone to open our wine and we returned to the steps just as it started to rain. It was just a light drizzle, so we didn’t let it deter us from our afternoon, but we soon ended up wet and I was freezing!!

Cheers Paris!!

We walked back down the hill and jumped on the metro towards the Eiffel Tower. There was a Villiers stop!! Hehe!!

We popped in a café for a quick coffee and chocolat chaud (hot chocolate) to warm up.

We meandered over to the Eiffel Tower and took pictures in the rain before heading, again, to Mara’s with more wine and snacks.

Paris is allllll about eating and drinking :P

We hung at Mara’s a bit. I was still freezing and she outfitted me in an enormous fur muff. She also gave us tons of warm stuff to take to Iceland!! Thank goodness!!We walked to a nearby bistro for dinner.

Preston and I shared a GIANT steak-the Cote de Boeuf- with fries and a variety of sauces. It was awesome and so delicious. (I was too cold to take a picture :P)

We took the metro home, which exits nearly right at our door. I was finally thawing out. Yay.

Goofin on the subway with the muff :P

Wednesday 30 April
Preston and I ventured over to the Louvre today. 

The Louvre is one of the world’s most famous museums and is comprised of some pretty impressive buildings. The Louvre was first a fortress, and then a palace, and is now a museum. It houses some of the most famous pieces of art in the world.

Following the advice from my guidebook, we bought our tickets in the mall underneath and were able to completely skip the long lines outside!! Horray!!

The museum was very crowded and unbelievably hot!! We walked through two of the main wings-Damon and Sully. We saw the Mona Lisa (a madhouse). I had hoped to find a picture there that I had seen during my visit in 2004. It was one of the most beautiful paintings I’d ever seen, but I can’t even remember who the artist was. We were on a mission as we walked the corridors, but were unlucky in our search.

Somewhere is the Mona Lisa


We saw some other pretty good stuff :D

With tired feet, we took the train home. Gavin came over and we made pasta in the small kitchen for dinner. Dian joined us and we spent the evening chatting.

Pres and I got ready to leave tomorrow, because we fly to Iceland to meet my Aunt and Uncle.

I’m sad to leave Paris, but SO happy that we will be returning in two weeks!!

Au Revoir for now Paris!!

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