The Honeymoon: Paris

I lived in Paris for a semester at SMU, and I adored it. I learned to turn the French words I knew into language, I gained an appreciation for French New Wave cinema, ate beguiling new foods, spent more time walking and exploring than I did in class, and I even went to the Cannes Film Festival. I also visited briefly on a quick trip with my sister after her high school graduation. So, Paris was an imperative for our honeymoon.

We took the Chunnel to Paris, took the RER and Metro to Pont d’Alma, and walked only a half-dozen blocks to our hotel, Melia Royale Alma. It was the smallest of our rooms, but it was lovely, with a shared patio overlooking my favorite city in the world. This room was a little quirky: you had to use your room key to operate both the safe and the lights, which meant if you wanted to get into the safe after dark, you were out of luck! The bathroom, while covered in marble, was so small you had to swing the glass open and climb into the shower sideways while taking care not to fall. It was cramped, but the location was central and made getting everywhere on our itinerary easy. I enjoyed the patio view for a few minutes and painted my nails. Then, we dressed up and set out immediately for the Eiffel Tower, which was within walking distance.

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The line was super long, and because it snakes through the interior and a series of elevators, we kept missing the sparkling lights that go off for 5 minutes, every hour on the hour. It started at the turn of the millennium, just a few days before I arrived back in 2000. Being at the top of the Eiffel Tower while it’s sparkling is one of my favorite experiences of life so far – it’s why this blog is called “Inside the Sparkling.” We ended up staying at the top for 2 hours just to experience it, and my freezing cold husband patiently played along because he knew it was important to me.

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We needed warming up after that, so we stopped by the Eiffel Tower cafe on the way home. I got French onion soup, and it was awesome – I don’t remember ever having it while I lived there.

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We started the next morning with some tea and muffins (I got to practice ordering in my rusty French! It worked!) and a trip to the Louvre. Now, I visited this museum many times during my stay, including trips with my art history class. I thought I’d seen it all, but I was wrong. I’d never been there with Barry, also known as the Museum Whisperer. People told us to arrange a tour, but it was expensive, so we did it on our own, and that turned out to be completely sufficient. Barry took a map, came up with a plan, and we spent the next 5 hours seeing EVERY SINGLE THING IN THE LOUVRE. ALL OF IT. ALL THE THINGS. Since most of the descriptions are in French, we bought a little guide book inside so we knew what we were looking at. I didn’t realize how large the Egyptian Antiquities area was – rows and rows and rooms and rooms full of sarcophagi, burial items, food found inside bodies. We even saw a mummified cat. There was also a series of Napoleon apartments, where I saw an awesome three-person chair and a seriously-impressive dinner table, where I conceived of throwing a dinner party with all the most interesting people I know. We fought our way through the Asian tour groups to see Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo. We also happened upon Charlemagne’s sword and the Code of Hammurabi. Winged Victory and Liberty Leading the People were on loan somewhere else – boo. For sustenance on the Museum Death March, we ate a tasty baguette sandwich on the first floor under the glass pyramid and did some people-watching.

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Our game plan was to make our way down the Historical Axis from the Louvre, through the Tuileries Gardens, past the Luxor Obelisk at Place de Concorde, and down the Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe. We kicked up our heels in the Tuileries for a few minutes and digested the entire museum’s contents. I got a yummy, yummy crepe on the way, and then we passed the U.S. Embassy and the spot where the French Revolution guillotines were set up. Since sunset was fast approaching, took the Metro a couple of stops to climb the Arc. I hike and go to the gym regularly, but the few months after the wedding were dedicated to recovery, and I could feel it – it was a lot harder climb than it was when I was 21! I had to rest for a minute! It’s not the highest vantage point in the city, but it’s unique – at the center of Hausmann’s Place de l’Etoile, it’s the meeting point for 12 broad avenues radiating out from its base into the city. We made it just before sunset, and it’s a stellar place to be as the City of Lights illuminates itself. We were taking pictures of the Eiffel Tower when it started to sparkle, and there was an audible gasp from the crowd. My paternal grandfather, an Army sergeant, arrived in Paris with his platoon the day after the liberation in August 1944, and I imagined the enthusiastic joy in the streets he must have experienced from this spot.

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A side note on the Paris Metro: it smells exactly the same as it did in 2001 (quite distinctive and not something you forget after spending as much time as I did there), but the technology has progressed at warp speed! Some of the cars have digital screens telling you which stops you’ve passed and which are coming up. Some stations have entire walls up to prevent people and items from falling onto the tracks, with sliding doors that open when the train arrives, plus digital signs with the displayed time of arriving trains. I’d say they’ve had a technological revolution, but you have to be careful with that word in France. 😉

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Dinner that night at Chalet Gregoire in Saint Germaine des Pres (you really can’t go wrong eating in this area of town) was my favorite of our entire trip (and that’s really saying a lot, because I was in charge of food, and we ate really well). One word: FONDUE. I heard about this place, located on a walk street, from a former co-worker who ate here on a vacation, and we couldn’t pass it up. The restaurant is located on both sides of this small, pedestrian-only street, and the waiters walk back and forth. Our table was across the street from the main entrance and kitchen, and we were seated at the edge of the restaurant between two folding doors (the last picture here is where we sat, but with the doors closed – we stayed until closing time – I could have stayed there forever). We were so excited about the fondue that we confused our waiter with our order – he truly did not understand why we would order cheese fondue, entrees, and dessert fondue. He was visibly annoyed but took our order anyway (we think he thought we didn’t understand how much food we were ordering and would not want to pay for it all and be upset with him, when it was really just a special occasion, and we wanted to try lots of things while we had the chance!). It was fun watching the waiters walk back and forth and bar patrons from next door wander around with their drinks. The cheese fondue was Savoyarde, a mix of Comté, Beaufort and Reblochon. Barry got scallop rissoto and frog legs. I tried a frog leg in the spirit of experimentation (it was what my other grandfather would always order at Arturo’s in Mexico).  Verdict: eh. Not really worth the creepy factor. My entree was more duck – shocker. I got a split bottle of red Cotes du Rhone, which in Paris is just around the corner! The bathroom here, up an open spiral staircase across the street, was the first place I saw a foot-petal-operated sink; I won’t tell you how long it took me to figure out how to wash my hands. The food was a true experience, the environment was super charming, and I would go back in a heartbeat.

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The next morning we woke up PAINFULLY early to take the train out to Versailles. I’d been there twice before, but the fountains were off, and Barry had checked and made sure they would be on. The Metro took us to a bus, which took us to a train, and then we still had to walk a mile to the palace as the sun was rising. I ducked into a pastry shop on the walk and got a couple of pains au chocolate for breakfast – zero protein but a yummy way to start the day. It was raining, and the ticket office opened late, so while we arrived in time to beat the Asian tour group crowds, the wait to get our tickets let a few hundred people in front of us, so we ended up waiting in the rain for quite a while. I don’t know if it was because it was a weekend or what, but it was twice as crowded as I’ve seen it, and it was physically difficult to get through the rooms and doorways (if you’re planning a trip – get there as early as possible, and buy your tickets beforehand. Also, make sure to get the audio tour sets – very helpful). Once we got outside, though, it was pleasant, and the rain had stopped. The fountains were flowing and so pretty! There was also classical music playing, which really added to the experience. We walked downhill all the way past the gates to the Grand Canal, and we made our way back up the grounds to the palace through the high-walled maze of bushes and hidden fountains. We felt a little like we were competing for the Triwizard Cup in Harry Potter!

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On the way to the train station, we walked through the Ville de Versailles (clean, sweet, and adorable) and happened up on a farmer’s market, where I bought a couple of small bags of homemade spice mixes and a small bottle of champagne to bring home. We took a train and the Metro back into town, and Barry fell asleep on the way. We were so tired. We made our way on foot to Notre Dame, which was celebrating its 850th anniversary! They’ve set up a temporary grandstand just outside the entrance, with people telling the crowd via microphone about its history. We leisurely wandered through the beautiful cathedral, so much so that our necks hurt after a while from looking up. It was so nice to be back among the stained glass windows, flying buttresses, intricate gates, and seriously awesome acoustics – not to mention being in the same building that witnessed Mary Queen of Scot’s wedding, Napoleon’s coronation, the French Revolution, Charles de Gaulle’s funeral, and so many other historical events throughout the centuries (the relic believe to be THE Crown of Thorns is in the treasury, which we didn’t pay to see). I actually took communion at Notre Dame back in the day – shhh, don’t tell them I’m not Catholic! Outside, we saw one of the several Paris bridges covered in “love locks” left by couples as a symbol of their permanent union. I also got an incredible Nutella crepe from a stand just outside the church (if you go, please let me point you there – it’s worth seeking out), which my sister and I had when we were there. Still awesome.

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That evening, we took a boat cruise of the Seine, a wedding gift from one of Barry’s groomsmen. It was a rainy day, and we had to scoop water out of our seats on the top level of the Bateaux Mouches. It was windy, too, and I sat on my scarf to keep dry and wrapped it around my legs for warmth, as I was wearing a dress. It was worth it, though, as we cruised down the waterway at sunset from the Eiffel Tower to Ile de la Cite and back again. It was a beautiful way to see Paris on our last night, despite the Asian tour group around us flashing pictures every second. The voice on the loudspeaker told us what we were passing, and it was neat to see from the river the places we’d been on foot. As we were passing by the base of the Eiffel Tower just before docking, it started to sparkle; really nice “honeymoon” moment.

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Most meat, I can take or leave, but I’m a big fan of duck. In fact, I first tried duck in Paris when my host mother cooked it for me while the rest of the family and students were eating a big, nasty fish with the head still on. I did some research, and for our last meal in Paris, I found a restaurant that serves duck raised lovingly on their family farm in the French Alps. We arrived that night at Le Petit Canard in Pigalle about an hour before closing and were sat at one of the 7 or 8 tables. The only man working turned out to be the waiter, cashier, bartender, and owner – and his wife was the only person we saw in the kitchen. This place is a treasure. I’ve had a lot of duck, both in restaurants and made at home, and this was VERY different. The meat had a different, deeper taste and texture, and the menu was inventive. I got a duck charcuterie plate, which included smoked magret, duck rillettes (a pâté of shredded meat), two kinds of duck terrines (one with port and green peppercorns, one with chesnuts), and slices of duck saucisson, a dry-cured sausage that’s classically made with just pork meat. My duck a l’orange was excellent – not a thick sauce, just a hint of citrus – and Barry loved his garlic creme duck. The pureed potatoes with sauteed mushrooms on top were seriously awesome – we’ve daydreamed about them several times since. Just to add to the culinary excess that was this trip, we got a cheese plate (ah, French cheese, I’ve missed you so) and baked chocolate lava cake for dessert. The bathroom was down a tiny flight of stairs, and I found awesome graffiti on the stall door.

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We had a wonderful stay in Paris. We saw very little I hadn’t seen before, but seeing it with my new husband made it feel new! I loved getting to speak French, eat French food, hear French-speaking people passing me on the sidewalks, showing him things I love, and just reveling in the best city on Earth!