Last Day in Paris

photo of Palais Garnier

We took the train from Bordeaux to Paris. The thick fog returned as we moved inland, covering the landscape in a grey haze. We passed sweet little towns, grand houses that were all boarded up, Art Deco hydro stations, and highly stylized 21st century condos nestled next to run down 18th century houses.

I got to experience the bar car for the first time. We were on an older train, so it wasn’t as well equipped as before. I ordered two espressos and a Milka chocolate bar. I watched as the barista opened a bottle of water and poured it into the espresso machine, then crumpled up the bottle and got out another. Seemed strangely inefficient and unsustainable – two characteristics I do not associate with modern day Europe.

photo of theatre interior

Palais Garnier: Paris Opera

Of all the things to do in France, Matt was looking forward to the Paris Opera most! We took the subway from the train station to our hotel and changed into our proper clothes. Our hotel was just a 7 minute walk from the opera!

We got ready in good time and went in search of a quick lunch. There were mostly fancy sit-down bistros around the opera, but after some walking around, we found a burger joint called 231 East Street. I practically devoured my hamburger – I was so hungry! It came with avocado and cheese!

Impressing the Czar

The four part ballet, Impressing the Czar, was playing at Palais Garnier today. It was performed by Semperoper Ballet Dresden and choreographed by William Forsythe. We had no idea what it was when we bought tickets – we just knew we wanted to see a show there during our visit! We went in blind.

Impressing the Czar combined ballet, contemporary dance, and political satire set to music by Beethoven and Thom Willems. It focused on the American election and the Trump win, combining violent movement and rhythmic dance. We interpreted the crazed schoolgirls on stage as the populous vote. Trump was represented by a pair of large golden cherries.

photo of guilded ceiling

Inside the Palais Garnier

We had a whole box to ourselves. I had never sat in a box before! Despite one would think, box seats are not coveted locations to watch a show from – the sound is muffled and your view is obstructed. You have to lean in or stand up to see the performance. Fortunately we could get right to the front!

The box was lined in red damask velvet, with red curtains and wooden chairs cushioned with the same velevet. Even the railing was covered in velvet! Each box was locked with a special key, so an usher had to let us in. Upon entering the box, there was a mirror, coat hooks, and a chaise lounge (red velvet of course). I could imagine Parisians of the past getting up to mischief into the shadows of this cosy opera box…

Looking from the box, you could see the stage, the painted ceiling and chandelier, and more gold guild than one could think possible! The seats below were chairs like ours in orchestra, and fold-up velvet wood versions further back. The theatre was smaller than I expected, but still very grand!

During intermission, we wandered the corridors. The halls at Palais Garnier were even more impressive than Versailles. I had never seen so much gold and crystal in a single place in my life! Chandeliers and tall windows that looked out onto the busy streets of Paris lit the room, making everything glow. There were painted murals on the wall and a Christmas tree lit in red lights left over from the holidays. It all oozed wealth and opulence.

After the performance, we tried to wander into the first level to take a peak of the theatre as a whole. Sadly that was not allowed and we were watched closely by ushers as we looked at costumes on display from the past season, and studied the statues and doorways. Once we left, we took photos on the stairs out front and headed out into the night. We felt electric after that experience!

photo of Gallery La Fayette

Galeries Lafayette

Matt had wanted to check out the glass ceiling of Galeries Lafayette since seeing it on the cover of a tourist guide. As it was just across from the theatre, we wandered in.

I was instantly spellbound by the luxury fashion and perfumes everywhere. Seeing all these fine European shoes and high end fashions had an physical and emotional effect on me that I hadn’t experienced since working in the fashion industry years ago. The fabrics, the leather, the subtle lines and drape of clothing and shoes had me captured. Fortunately Matt was there to keep me on course and spotted the glass ceiling while I was fixated on a pair of emerald green leather boots.

The view of the ceiling was obstructed by the department store’s Christmas display: a giant white Christmas tree with mechanical toys running along lines that crisscrosses overhead. Guilded balconies looked out from the department store’s boutiques, cream and gold – almost as ornate as Palais Garnier!

Pictures taken, I instructed Matt to pull me out of the vortex. Matt did not understand what all the fuss was about. “So a skilled seamstress sewed some expensive fabric? So what?” This statement annoyed me immensely, but I reminded myself that fashion was like art: some people appreciate it, others don’t. I like some forms of art and specific artist’s work, and scratch my head at others. One could like high fashion and designers, or think it’s pointless. Same idea.

photo of the Louvre

Louvre

We walked over to the Louvre to take a picture of its famous pyramid. We saw people going in, so decided we’d try our luck at the end of the day. Today was free at the museum after all!
Although we could get into the building (after passing through security), we could not access any exhibits. They were all blocked off. So, we wandered the underground pathway system below the Louvre and arose on the other side.

photo of a bistro interior

St. Germain

We set out towards St. Germain for dinner, looking for a stereotypical French bistro to have our last meal in Paris at. After peering in various windows and studying multiple menus, we settled on a quiet bistro on a corner: Au Chai de l’Abbaye.

Au Chai de l’Abbaye

We ordered a small charcuterie board and half a graft of wine to share between us. I had the escargot and Matt ordered poulet du Cantal. To my delight, the escargots were served in their shells and I was supplied special utensils to hold the shell and fish out the snail. It was fun!

The staff were charming and seemed sad to see us go. They all waved to us from behind the brass counter as we left, wishing us a good night.

photo of dessert

Les Deux Magots

All the guidebooks I had read, highlighted Les Deux Magots. So, we went there to end our evening with an aperitif and dessert. We sat on the patio under a heat lamp. Matt ordered the oldest port on the menu and I had some sort of aperitif with the word fuse in it – I think it was wine and cassis.

Our waiter (in a white shirt and bow tie) presented us with a tray of desserts to chose from. The moment my eye fell on the raspberry rose macaron, I knew that was what I would have! There was even a red rose petal on top with a single dew drop glistening in the lamplight as a finishing touch to this precious dessert!

End to the Evening

We walked home, passing over the bridge and through the gardens of the Tuileries. There, couples were cuddling around the pond, watching the multicoloured lights of the Paris ferris wheel dance in the water. A bat flew overhead and we walked hand in hand back to our hotel, minding not to step in the doggy-doo that litters the streets of Paris.

Back at our hotel, we packed and finished the leftover wine from yesterday. I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow! It had been an exciting day – a fitting end to our adventures in France!

Bon Voyage!

Matt did not sleep well, but we managed to get ready in good time. We were glad we only stayed one night at the Richmond Opera Hotel as the elevator was broken and the shower was the smallest we’d ever encountered. Despite being of average height and weight, I kept bonking into the tap and walls. Matt had the same complaints. It was tiny! There was no bath as an alternative either.

We took the Roissy bus from the Opera House to the airport. I was a bit worried at first as the big bus weaved its way through rush hour traffic in Paris, but somehow we got to the airport early!

We checked my backpack and made our way to border control. The officer didn’t speak a word to me, just stamped my passport and off we went! There were some intriguing duty free shops at the exit, but we wanted to get through security first. That went like a breeze, but sadly the duty free shops at the gate had nothing we wanted to bring home.

We had an espresso and chocolate croissant as we waited for the plane. Now I am seated on our flight – next stop Washington, then home to Toronto! Our trip to France has come to an end.

Thanks for traveling with us – bon voyage!
photo of a plane wing and sky

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Driving Through South-Western France

We rented a car from Hertz to explore outside the city. It was a standard and very compact. I could imagine it would be very uncomfortable for anyone larger or taller than me!

Driving outside of town was very amusing (at least for me). There were constant roundabouts, even on the highway! Made sense though – no stoplights slowing you down.

photo of a sand dune against a blue sky

The Dune of Pyla/Pilat

Our first stop was the Dune of Pyla/Pilat (we saw two different spellings for what appears to be the same place). I’d picked up a postcard with it the day before and remarked on it to Matt. It hadn’t crossed my mind to actually visit it, but Matt did some research and it was now #1 on our To See list for the day.

The dune blew our minds – it was my favourite part of the trip! It was unlike anything I had experienced before! It was 110m high, 500m wide, and 2.7km long. Unlike the [diminutive] sand dunes I knew from camping trips to Pinery Provincial Park back home, you could walk all over this one! It was a little hard to watch people run and slide down with “Do not walk on the dunes…” engraved in me from the Pinery, but the joy radiating from people as they ran and slid was wonderful to witness!

Matt and I hiked up to the top of the sand dune. I was in a constant state of awe, stopping to photograph everything. Matt took the steepest route he could find (he does love a good slope!) and I took the regular footpath. I felt like I was in the Sahara Desert – this was the most sand I’d seen in my entire life!

Except it wasn’t a desert. On one side was a forest of evergreen trees and the other was the Atlantic Ocean. Apparently the dune is slowly taking over the forest and has even covered homes in the area! It moves 1-5 meters a year, sand being blown in by the wind from the sea, then tumbling over into the trees.

On the ocean side, it slopes 5 to 20 degrees, and on the forest side it is much steeper: 30 to 40 degrees! This made for a very exciting hike. The steepness provided a sense of danger, as if we could fall to our deaths, but the sand prevented us from falling. Even when people tried to slide down, the sand stopped them.

photo of people hiking on a sand dune

Arcachon

We would have liked to walked the whole dune, but there are only so many hours of sunlight in the day… and a winter’s day at that! So, we got back in the car to drive in the direction of Arachon, the nearest town, to pick up some food before heading out to the medieval wine town of St. Emilion.

I had read on one of the dune’s information plaques that locals salvaged wood from below the dune for their oyster shacks. That gave me a craving for seafood, so we set our GPS to the cheapest seafood place nearby. We had imaged something like a chip truck or seafood shack, but instead we found ourselves in an upscale town made up almost entirely of summer homes! It was like a ghost town. Most of the cottages/villas/condos were shuttered up. I had never seen such a dense array of vacation homes, and to think that is all these were: summer homes! Wow.

We had trouble finding anything open. We did find two restaurants by the pier, but they were expensive. We wandered the vacant streets, occasionally passing an old woman in a fur coat or a couple out for a stroll. There were more people along the beach, but even that was nearly empty.

Burger Bros

We found a burger joint that was open. The staff at Burger Boys were very friendly. Matt ordered a cheeseburger and I had the plat du jour. The staff didn’t know how to describe the plat du jour in English, so all we know that it was some sort of cut of beef. When they tried to explain it to Matt, he thought they were saying it was some sort of steak. Each time Matt said “So, its some kind of steak?” the waiter would wave his finger at him, “No, no, not steak!”. This happened at least twice.

I quite enjoyed my mystery beef. It had been awhile since we’d have any real meat as we’d been primarily living off of bread and cheese during our trip. It came with fries, which I ate in the European way: dipping them in mayonnaise!

Grocery Store

We spotted a grocery store that was open so went in to check out the wind selection. There were some boxes for bottles that I presumed were free like back home. Most of them were mouldy, so I presumed they were just trying to get rid of one. Matt took his time looking over the wine bottles. The French wines ranging from 0.77 to 92€ on the grocery shelf! When we went to the cash, they charged me 2€ for the mouldy box. When I protested, they said I had to buy it because I had broken it. I didn’t know how to communicate all the boxes were broken.

photo of a medieval town from above

St. Emilion

The next destination on our road trip was the medieval town of St. Emilion. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with lots of wineries. As we approached, we finally got to see the Bordeaux we had been expecting. There were rolling hills, old vineyards, crumbling old stone walls, regal chateaus, and winding cobble stone streets.

We were greeted in St. Emilion with the bell in the old church ringing out overhead. Doves cooed and the afternoon sun gave a soft orange hue to the stone walls of the town.

The medieval part of town felt abandoned except for the occasional tourist or shopkeeper. We wandered about admiring the picturesque quality of the town. There were sheep grazing by a vineyard, a cat lazing in the sun, and birds sitting on the clay roofs of houses. It was if time had left this place untouched except for the electric lamp posts that lined the narrow streets.

We stopped in a convenience store that also served as the local bar for some mulled wine. The shop keeper had to search for some take-out cups for us, and steamed the wine with the espresso machine as if it were milk for a latte! We continued our wander, sipping our mulled wine, the cups warming our hands.

We tried to find a winery that was open, but all the gates were locked shut. I had read you needed to make appointments at chateaus, but I thought that only applied to professionals in the industry or high-balling connoisseurs . That might have also applied to the general public I now suppose. Bordeaux was very different from the wine country I knew back home in Niagara!

We continued our hunt for an open winery by car until sun down. We found a bakery that was open and bought two delicious loafs of bread and a canalé. One bread was forked on either end, giving it four heels for Matt to enjoy (I don’t like the heels of bread). The other was packed full of olives and the soft bread melted in your mouth. It was so good!

photo of a vineyard at sunset

Last Night in Bordeaux

We made our way home in the dark. Once we got back into town, the car stalled twice in traffic. The stress of that helped give us a jolt of energy to pack that evening. We had a dinner of bread, cheese, and wine, splitting our canalé from St. Emilion in half to enjoy as dessert. Once our bags were packed and ready by the door, we crawled into bed and fell asleep.

Back to Paris tomorrow… then home!

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Taking it slow in Bordeaux

photo of a baguette,tarts, pears, and a flower on a table

Day One

Matt woke up with a cold this morning, making two sickies on vacation. We got up at 9:00 to go grocery shopping down the street. We tried a new bakery where we got our daily loaf of baguette with an apricot and pear tart. I passed a florist and picked up a small hyacinth – I thought it would look lovely in our ‘cottage’.

Back home, I fixed us up some lemon and honey tea while Matt worked on logistics. We started researching things to do in Bordeaux and were shocked at the prices. Renting a car was horrific and vineyard tours were even worse! I found two ‘budget’ tours online, but sadly they were only available during tourist season. Matt wanted to take a wine course too – but sadly, they all seemed to be in French! So, we decided to nap instead.

When I awoke, I still felt very discouraged. We decided to go to the Tourist Information Centre for help and do some sightseeing along the way:

photo of a fountain

Palais Gallien

We set our sails for our sunset stroll to Palais Gallien, a Roman amphitheatre built in the early 2nd century AD. It was nestled between houses in a quiet residential area. It was amazing to stand in front of something so old in a thriving city!

Perhaps the highlight of the walk for Matt was discovering that the public washrooms played jazz for you! He entered the washroom pod and it gave him audio instructions in French and English, paired with elevator music! He was very impressed – and the music served as an ear worm for the rest of the walk. Apparently it was really catchy!

We walked through a beautiful park with old trees and statues. Roses were growing along the wall and gave a soft scent to the air. Moss was growing on the wall and statues, adding colour to the stone.

photo of stone arches

Place des Quinconces

We headed to Place des Quinconces, which is apparently the biggest square in France! It featured a gorgeous fountain (no water flowing this time of year) of a bare breasted woman riding a shell lead by horses to trample some foes – it was extremely dramatic!

We stopped in the Bordeaux Opera to confirm that tours were only available in French. Then we went to the tourist office to inquire on wine courses in English and winery visits. Unfortunately, pickings are quite slim for Anglophones this time of year. So, we walked home, made pasta, savoured a bottle of white Bordeaux wine before heading off to bed.

Day Two in Bordeaux

We were greeted by blue skies and warm sun on our face when we left our flat to pick up our baguette for the day. We went to the third bakery on our street, this one being organic with the baguette being heavily floured. I got flour all over my coat and scarf!

As we passed a deli, I told Matt how I’d had a dream about the little birds in the window we’d seen on yesterday morning’s grocery expedition. Matt suggested we buy one to have with our baguette.

As the deli didn’t have them on display today, Matt struggled to describe in French something we didn’t know what it was exactly. The older woman at the counter said they didn’t have anything like what Matt was describing, but the young woman suddenly remembered what had been in the window the day before. Turned out it had been a quail stuffed with fois gras!

We excitedly took our new friend and baguette home. Our next adventure was to buy a day pass (4.50€) for the public transit system in Bordeaux. We found a kiosk at the nearest tram stop, but it was very confusing to navigate. This was furthered by our ticket saying it was good for 1 hour of travel. We figured they must print the day passed on the same roll used for individual tickets.

Our next mission was to find a wine tasting course. We went to the Wine Cellar, which offered workshops in English in a 18th century wine cellar. The sign outside the door said they were closed for the winter and directed us to their wine shop.

We made our way to the wine shop. The sales rep there was very nice and explained the sommelier was on vacation so they could not offer workshops. He offered to close the shop and give us a personal wine tasting, but we didn’t feel comfortable doing that. The shop was busy as it was and we weren’t about to spend the type of money that would making closing shop worthwhile.

photo of a statue in a dark church

Cathédrale Saint-André de Bordeaux

The Wine Cellar was near the Bordeaux Cathedral, so we decided to wander in. It was stunning! It was built in the 10th century and featured beautiful stain glass, vaulted ceilings, and painted columns. I was very impressed.

photo of chairs in the sunshine

Cite du Vin

It was free to visit the first floor and grounds of Cite du Vin. There was a library and a bistro on the first floor (and free wifi and washrooms!). If you purchase a 20€ ticket, you gain access to the museum of wine on the second floor and the bar on the top floor, which includes one wine tasting. We decided to check out the first floor and decide from there. I had read online that Cite du Vin offered 2€/glass wine tastings, but apparently you only got that with the ticket.

We checked out the international wine selection on the main floor. There were two wines from Quebec, one from BC, and two from Caves Spring Winery – the latter being from my hometown. Surprisingly, Niagara-on-the-Lake was not represented, only the Beamsville Bench!

We went to have a glass of wine in the bistro, but was found the service and menu lacking. So we chose to head home for lunch and have a glass of Bordeaux wine in our flat. As we left the building, we declared Cite du Vin was just like the city of Bordeaux: underwhelming and not a place we’d visit again.

photo of cheese and a quail

Tram and Lunch

We took the tram back to our flat. The tram in Bordeaux is very similar to the new TTC streetcars in Toronto – only with a smoother stop and and a bullet-like exterior. It had lovely big windows to admire the city from.

We had a huge lunch with baguette, cheese, vegetable soup, and the guest of honour: Felix. Felix was our quail stuffed with fois gras. Matt had been typing about the quail on his phone, but it autocorrected “It was delicious!” to “It was Felix!” – so we decided to name it Felix.

Felix was an unique bird. He had been deboned and stuffed with fois gras, then dipped in gelatin (or was that lard?). He was tasty and went very well with baguette.

After our epic meal, we needed a nap. When we awoke, it was dark outside! I consulted the list of “Must See Things in Bordeaux” and the only things we hadn’t checked off were the Blue Lion and Botanical Gardens across the bridge. So, we took the tram over to check them out.

The Lion was nothing to write home about, and the Botanical Gardens were not at their best in winter after dark. So, we turned homeward to walk across the bridge. The tide was going out, the sound of rushing water rising up from under the bridge. We watched the water in the lamplight, trying not to get run over by bike couriers (there are a lot in France!).

photo of a pint and martini glass cheersing

L’Excale Pirate Bar

Pirate bars seemed to be a thing here, so we decided to check one out. The first one we went to was crowded and loud, so we went to the second one, L’Excale. The tables were barrels and there were old-fashioned nicknacks lining the walls.

The bar was playing covers of old songs. We sat down at the bar and reviewed the menu. We decided to try the two local beers on tap. When the bartender came over, he seemed a bit disappointed when we asked if he spoke English, but warmed up as the evening progressed. He told us about the Happy Hour specials which included free peanuts! So, we had beer and peanuts for dinner.

We ended up having the best time of our trip to Bordeaux at L’Excale. The bartender came and chatted with us regularly, introducing us to a friend who spoke English. They had been to Paris recently and were eager to share suggestions of where to go in Paris! They recommended The Little Red Door and Caldelaria, a speakeasy in a Mexican restaurant! We even did shots with the bartender! They were awesome!

Fortunately we were a seven minute walk home. We had a fantastic night there. Highly recommend.

photo of a street lined with boutiques

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Paris to Bordeaux

I felt terrible when we awoke this morning – sneezing, puffy, and congested. Matt acted as my cheerleader, setting-up breakfast and ensuring we stayed on schedule. The only thing left to pack was our toiletries, food, and laundry. Our laundry which was still damp despite sitting on the clothes rack by the heater all night (no electric dryers here!). We said farewell to our friendly host (who was frying pasta for his breakfast!) and headed out into the dark Parisian streets.

We took the bus to the train station, arriving ahead of schedule. Although we had ridden the subway many times during rush hour during our trip, this was the first time we encountered crowds on public transit. What with our lack of knowledge of the ticketing system on the bus and all our bags, it made for an awkward bus experience.

photo of an espresso cup by the train window

Train to Bordeaux

We had booked a SNCF high speed train to Bordeaux through Rail Europe. In roughly 3 hours we travelled 600km, reaching top speeds of 300km an hour! Matt was very excited by this.

Economy seating was very comfortable and exceptionally clean. We had spacious seats, USB and electrical outlets, a folded down table, baggage storage, pleasant washrooms, gardbage and recycling bins, and a cafe a couple train cars next to us. Only thing missing was wifi!

Matt went to buy us espresso at the cafe. It came in tiny cups with plastic lids, each with an individually wrapped piece of dark chocolate. We sat and enjoyed our espresso, watching the French countryside whizz by.

France through the window

Looking out the train window, the houses reminded me of the suburbs of Molkau, from my trip to Germany. The plaster walls were cream coloured with red tile roofs. We saw few houses near the train tracks that varied from that. Sometimes there would be stone or concrete farming structures like barns or turret-like silos.

Just outside of Paris, the tops of the trees were crowned in frost. Further out there was a light dusting of snow in parts and just thick fog in others. We saw orb like moss growing in trees that Matt thought were bird nests at first. They looked like something out of Dr. Zeus!

As we neared Bordeaux, we saw our first blue sky of our whole trip! The dew on the grass outside sparkled in the sunlight. The trees cast long thin shadows on the fields. Matt and I closed our eyes and held hands, enjoying the warm sun on our face.

The sun didn’t last long and soon the countryside was covered in fog again. I saw my first French vineyard then – gnarled old vines, white with frost. We saw grazing sheep and horses sheltering under trees, ghost-like in the thick grey fog.

photo of buildings in Bordeaux

Arrival in Bordeaux

The sun arrived with us in Bordeaux. It had a lovely train station and out front were rows of bicycles, an electric train, and quaint looking businesses. Directly across from the station was a bistro with a bright red awning and matching furniture. As we passed the bistro, I noticed a sign for hot wine and mussels at a much lower rate than we’d come accustomed to seeing in Paris.

We decided to stop for moules et frites. We shared a huge bowl for just over 9€. It was accompanied by bread and served in a big pot. Matt ordered a local white wine for us to share as well. To our delight, mustard, ketchup, mayonnaise, and spicy oil (called Pizz) came in long thin packets – like sugar at fancy restaurants! The bistro also had things like hamburger au fois gras. It was like a French diner… bistro-diner… bistro.

After our meal, we made our way to our AirBnB apartment rental. I was elated walking through the residential streets. Gone was the polish and pomp of central Paris – here everything looked real. The buildings were built with such detail and care ages ago, but now fallen into disrepair as few today can afford to maintain such craftsmanship. Matt said everything looked ‘homey yet fancy’.

photo of baguette, hummus, and wine on a table

Our Home Away From Home

I was a bit nervous entering our AirBnB rental. The corridor was dirty and smelled like a sewer – yet when the door opened on our new home away from home, I was awestruck. Our flat was gorgeous!

It was a newly renovated loft apartment with exposed stone walls, laminated and tile flooring, a shared back garden and everything we could possibly need!* It felt spacious despite its small size and was very well laid out. The windows in the kitchen let in light all through the apartment – and the window over the sink looked out onto palm trees!

Once we had unpacked and marvelled at the amenities available to us, Matt went grocery shopping while I had a nap. The bed was up a ladder and stocked well with blankets. I cozied up and drifted in and out of sleep before a very excited Matt came back.

The staff at the grocery store and bakery had been a joy to converse with after the snooty attitudes of Paris. Matt showed me all the wonderful groceries he’d got – including soup, lemon, and Kleenex for my cold. He had got a baguette at the local bakery, which he set out with hummus and wine. For dessert, we had canalé de Bordeaux, a which Matt had picked up from the bakery down the street.

photo of buildings in Bordeaux

Wandering through Bordeaux

Fuelled up, we went for a walk, soaking up Bordeaux in the warm glow of the setting sun. We walked down to the bridge, then Palace de la Bourse, and up to the opera house, and down Rue Ste-Catharine.

It was only when we neared the opera house that things started to look upscale. However, despite the wealth around us, staff were very friendly and helpful. We chatted with staff at the opera house about shows (none during our visit) and tours (Wed/Sat only), followed by exceptional service next door at the Tourist Information Centre when we enquired on wine tastings. We walked down Ste-Catherine, a pedestrian street lined with shops. It started very posh, then thinned out to fast food restaurants and fast fashion.

photo of a person walking under an arch in the fog at night
With night came the fog. We returned home where we put on a French classical radio station. Matt started surfing French Netflix, showing me clips he’d worked on in Orphan Black. We then stumbled upon a German film, Look Who’s Back, that we ended up watching for the remainder of the evening. It was about Hilter waking up in modern day Berlin and gaining power as a comedian. It was thoroughly entertaining but deeply disturbing, especially with current events.

*We later discovered our AirBnB lacked anything to make coffee, had only had one bowl, and poor wifi. Matt has decided he is going to travel with his AeroPress from now on.

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Waiting in Paris: A Day of Lineups

photo of crowds in the fog outside Versailles

We got up before sunrise to pick up fresh baguette at Les Gourmandises d’Eiffel, the bakery at the end of our street – it always had a long line outside, so we’d never bothered. But at 8am in the morning, we had the bakery all to ourselves!

We ordered a traditional baguette, croissants, crepes and an escargot shaped pastry. I was hungry, so I ate my crepe as we walked around killing time before the grocery store opened at 8:30am. Everything was warm and fresh out of the oven!

Once the grocery store opened, we bought a bottle of French wine and a corkscrew for a picnic at Versailles in the afternoon. Packed for Versailles, we thought it would be lovely to have our morning cup of coffee on the Eiffel Tower.

photo of a telescope on the Eiffel tower looking out on the city of Paris

Ride up the Eiffel Tower

We lined up at the entrance to the Eiffel Tower. The first security check opened at 9am. They took their time opening the gate and it was all very confusing. Only one elevator was open, so we all lined up for half a hour to buy our tickets. I was prepared to skip the ride up the Eiffel Tower by then as it was cold and I was tired, but Matt coaxed me into staying!

Then we went lined up for yet another security check where our wine and corkscrew were confiscated. They almost took away Matt’s metal comb too! We were very sad to loose our picnic wine and corkscrew.

After lining up yet again to get on the elevator, we finally got up to the second level. I chirped up once I saw the view. It was beautiful! We ordered espresso at the cafe and enjoyed the view as steam from our cups warmed our faces.

photo of crowds in the fog outside the gates of Versailles

Versailles

We took the train out to Versailles. We snacked on the baguette as we watched the houses go by, declaring it the best baguette we’d had! It’s no wonder the bakery is so popular with the locals.

Despite yesterday’s weather report saying today would be sunny and with a high of 6C, Versailles was covered in thick fog when we arrived. We waited outside in line for over a hour! Fortunately they had free wifi in the square to entertain us.

The palace was interesting, but my favourite part were the vast gardens! Even in winter, it was wondrous and my imagination painted vibrant pictures of it in summer: warm sun, lush green leaves, and fragrant flowers!

At the opposite end of the garden was Marie-Antoinette’ estate. It was very small, drab, and dark in comparison to the palace. It nothing like what I would had associated with her! The doors and furniture were tiny too. She would have been a very small person – a testament to how nutrition has improved, even for royalty!

photo of the hall of mirrors

Royal with Cheese

In homage to the film Pulp Fiction (and to quench our hunger) we popped into the McDonalds outside of Versailles for a Royal with Cheese (hamburger). Matt did not like McDonald’s hamburgers, calling them slimy and making a face. I thought differently however, so got to enjoy one and a half Royal with Cheese hamburgers! Yum, yum!

Catacombs: Take Two

We got to the Catacombs at 5:15pm, just after sunset. To our horror there was a very long line all around the park outside the entrance. Matt and I waited for over half an hour, hardly budging. He went and asked someone near the front how long they’d been waiting: two and a half hours! If we waited that long ourselves, we’d get there just before closing at 8pm. Disappointed, we aborted the mission.

Quiet Night

We went home and did laundry, packed, and set about making dinner. We cooked the rest of our French pasta for dinner, finishing up the leftover baguette and comté cheese. We lit candles and sat back with glasses of Bordeaux wine to watch the Eiffel Tower sparkle one last time, listening to a Parisian radio station broadcasting from Montmartre. The fog was starting to clear finally – we could see the top of the Eiffel Tower in all its glory!

My cold had gotten bad, so I went to bed early, feeling like the most unromantic sniffly mess on my last night in Paris before Bordeaux. What with jet lag, being sick, aches and pains from so much walking, and it being so cold and damp, Paris hadn’t been as a romantic experience as it could be, but we’d made the best of it nonetheless!

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Death in Paris

photo of a baguette and coffee

Morning Mission: Baguette

I woke up from nightmares again this morning. Had them last night too – torture, spiders, ghosts, and crossing a 4 lane intersection with my bike. As I lay awake in bed, I studied the crack of light around the curtains. I heard a crow calling in the stillness outside – far away, close by, then away again. Unusual to hear a crow in the city!

I got dressed and headed out in search for yogurt and bread for breakfast. As today was New Years Day observed, most of the shops were closed. I found a grocery store that was open where I got a lemon for our colds, camomile-honey-apple juice, and yogurt. I successfully completed the transaction in French too! The first bakery I went to was closed, and the grocery store was sold out of bread, but the second bakery was open! I got a multigrain demi baguette and a café allongé for Matt.

When I returned, Matt had CBC radio on (night steam) and was making coffee with the grinds from the pods. We spread out our cheese, baguette, and yogurt, having a morning feast before the big day ahead of us.

photo of a mini galette

Du Pain et des Idées Bakery

We headed out with our umbrellas to a little bakery for some of Matt’s favourite bread: pain des amis (half flat is 5.30€). We got a mini almond galette, an escargot chocolate-pistache (pastry shaped like a snail), and two savoury rolls. Matt dived into the bread as soon as we got outside and I happily took pictures of our goods.

photo of Paris from Sacre Couer

Sacre Coeur

We climbed the steps to Sacre Coeur, the basilica on the highest summit in Paris. We walked around the church and took in the view of the city. I even saw a Welsh terrier – the relatively rare bread of dog I aspire to get one day (we’ve seen lots of smart Westhighland terriers – Matt’s dog of choice and another of my favourites).

We found a bench with a good view of the city and ate our lunch from the bakery this morning: one spinach and goat cheese roll, one honey and cheese with sesame. Matt found a ‘secret’ staircase to descend down the hill by. It was hidden in the trees and lead us into a beautiful park. It also seemed to be a favourite spot for people to use as an open air washroom – the stairs reeked of urine and we saw one women ducking in the bushes!

photo of parked scooters on a Parisian street

Montmartre

We wandered the streets of Montmartre, which I declared my favourite part of Paris. It was just the right amount of grit with European charm. There were window boxes with flowers, quirky shops, old fashioned lamps, and random staircases crammed between buildings.

We passed a realtor with condos advertised in the window. One particularly shabby one was quoted at 151,000€. Matt and I fantasied for a moment about purchasing a flat in Paris, him getting a job at Technicolour in Paris and me doing accessibility consultancy – Paris is in desperate need of it!


We made our way to Rue Ordener, where my godmother, Judy, once lived. We stopped in the neighbourhood cafe and had espresso for 1€. Apéro was a very friendly place – the barista was shaking hands with customers and everyone was laid back and jolly. Finally, a cafe experience to savour!

photo of crypts and grave stones

Père Lachaise Cemetery

When we got on the subway, Matt joked the squeal of the train were the spirits of the dead screaming. Apt for a trip to a cemetery!

Link to audio file of subway squeal

We wandered the cemetery until after dark. Once it grew near to park closing, park staff stood at the park gates ringing handbells. I had just told Matt how they used to install bells at grave sites for people to ring if they were buried alive. What with the cawing of crows, the reflection of the streetlights on polished marble, and the bells, the cemetery had the perfect gothic atmosphere.

We went to see the graves of Chopin, Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, and George Mélies. I accidentally stepped on a flat grave stone – the hollow sound underfoot was unsettling! It was right next to a crypt that was ajar – a gaping black hole in the ground!

photo of crypts

The Catacombs

We took the subway out to the Catacombs, snacking on leftover baguette and pistachio escargot along the way, getting all sticky with sugar and chocolate.

The Catacombs were closed today for the holiday (their website did not list specific holiday closures) so we got back on the subway, satisfied that we now knew where they were (directly opposite the Denfert-Rochereau metro station).

photo of the tip of the Eiffel Tower in the fog

Dinner at Home

We returned home to heat up a can of lobster bisque, adding brined mackerel fillets, and the thick crust from our pain des amies. Paired with a 3€ bottle of white wine and appropriately French classical music playing on the iPhone, we had a very nice dinner indeed!

The fog was starting to thin, so we watched the Eiffel Tower sparkle from our bedroom window. It was a beautiful end to our day.

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Museum Day

New Years Day started with coffee. As our host only had a pod machine, we had bought what we thought were tea bags with coffee grinds at the grocery store the day before. Turned out they were pods also, just incompatible with his Nestle machine. So, Matt ended up breaking them open and using the grinds within with some hot water.

Matt served me my cup in bed. I didn’t want to leave the comfort of the warm blankets. It’s so cold in Paris apartments! It was lovely to sit curled up in bed with a hot mug of coffee, knowing that outside the window, the Eiffel Tower was just over the rooftops, hidden by the fog.

Matt set out a spread of baguette, cheese, and yogurt for breakfast. We watched a local news, where we heard over half a million people gathered at Champ des Élysées for New Years Eve the night before. We were glad that we chose the Tower!

photo of a cup of coffee, blanket, and tall window

Musée Des Arts et Métiers

We took the subway for the first time on our trip. The automated machines weren’t intuitive, so we bought a ticket from a teller who would much rather be on her cell phone than help us, despite a friendly bonjour.

Our first stop was La Gaîté Lyrique, a digital arts gallery. Unfortunately it was closed until January 10th (Google lied to us!). Next we went to Musée Des Arts et Métiers, an industrial museum. As it was the first Sunday of the month, we got in free!

We wandered Musée Des Arts et Métiers looking at various inventions and products. I wa surprised at the different types of keyboards that had been invented over the centuries! There is a school attached to the museum, and I thought how wonderful it must be for design students to come over here to look at all the different ways everyday items have been approached over the ages.

photo of the Pompidou's exterior

Pompidou

Next we went to the Pompidou where we lined up for a hour. There was another long line for coat check so we chose to carry our winter coats with us. We read a sign that said people under 25 were free, so we went to the ticket machine to buy two tickets. We later found out that everyone had free admission today, and we’d needlessly spent 14€ a piece!

Our tickets got us into the special exhibition, but we didn’t fancy standing in yet another line, so went downstairs to the galleries. There was Duchamp, Kandinsky, Rothko, and other greats. Matt found a new artist he really liked called Basque (?) from the mid 1900’s – always a joy to discover something new!

In the  glass covered stairway that overlooked the city, we munched on leftover baguette from yesterday. It was a bit stale and we decided that we needed something more substantial to sustain us. We followed the signs for the restaurant, ending up at the top of the tower among a series of abstract pods and low set tables set with long stem roses. The menu was far above our budget. When we asked if there was another restaurant, staff said they didn’t know! Really…

We made our way downstairs, finding a cafe on the second level. We got a chicken sandwich, two coffees, and a moelleux aux pommes for the same price as a starter soup at the fancy Pompidou restaurant upstairs. Ha!

Next we went to the contemporary art section on Floor 4. There was an exhibit titled Polyphones which I found interesting. The theme was voice and the human body. The first piece was a series of music stands in gravel by Leibovici, the second a video by Oliver Beer, and third sculpture by Danz. I found the video most moving – children singing into a piano as the camera focused on details on and around them. It was disconnected and haunting.

Matt had more museum stamina than I. He returned to the modern classics while I made myself comfy on the cushions on the main level. I am amazed at how many huge museums there are in this city! The quantity of them and the content within is overwhelming! You’d need to live here for years to soak it up properly.

photo of apartment buildings in downtown Paris

Evening

We took the subway home. On the walk back to our flat, I noticed how there was gold confetti along the sides of the streets. It sparkled in the lamplight – everything in this city sparkles!

We made pasta for dinner with tomato sauce and goat cheese, opening a bottle of wine from Bordeaux. We ate some cheese and fish rolls as an appetizer we’d picked up at the store yesterday merely because they intrigued us. I didn’t like them, but Matt sure did!

After dinner, I sat on the couch with a glass of wine and enjoyed the view. Outside the window were classic shuttered windows, red clay chimneys, and flower boxes. Above the roof, the sky shown yellow where the Eiffel Tower lay beyond the fog, flickering ever so slightly when it put on its hourly strobe light show. Smoke rose up into the night air from a chimney, black against the lit up sky. A quiet end to our third day in Paris.

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NYE in Paris

Our First Morning in Paris

We slept in quite late – jet lag and the winter chill of Paris making me resistant to face the day despite the joys outside our Airbnb. Matt was insistent we get up, blowing raspberries and stealing the blankets until I got up in a fit of giggles.

After a hot shower, we went out in search of coffee (our host only had a disposable pod coffee machine – shocking!). On the way, we stopped in a little cheese shop (Fromagerie de Grenelle) where I picked out a cheese that looked like a fillet of cod (Bouyguette) and a cheese shaped like a heart (Neufchâtel). Matt got his favourite: Comte!

photo of bread and cheese
We went to Michel Arnoux, a little bakery at the end of our street for cafe allongé (americano) and a croissant. Despite its humble vibe, it had vaulted ceilings, big glass windows and marble flooring. Out of the back of the bakery came a woman in a purple fur vest – I’ve never seen a baker in furs before! Paris is full of surprises.

For Matt’s second cup of coffee, he ordered what looked like a Timbit. I laughed that he was getting a Timbit at a Parisian bakery – but when he bit into it, it had an apricot filling and was much denser than a Timbit. I stole a little bite… for science!

photo of a map of Paris and baguettes

Afternoon in Paris

Matt set about planning our our itinerary in the kitchen while I worked on my first blog post on Paris in the living room. When I came out for some baguette, smoked salmon, and wine, he had a huge map of Paris spread out on the kitchen table. Matt was excitedly plotting out our day’s activities. Today, we were going for another walk!

photo of the Eiffel Tower in the fog over apartment buildings

Evening walk

We bundled up and set out, baguette in hand for snacking. We passed by the Eiffel Tower and walked up to the Palais de Tokyo, a contemporary art gallery I’d read about online. Unfortunately it was closed for renovations until February. We then made our way to Arc de Triomphe which was crowded with people taking pictures. Apparently this is where the big New Years Eve party is in Paris . There was a light show and concert stage all set up with booming music.

photo of tge Arc de Triomphe
We walked down Champs Élysées, which is like the Yonge/Dundas (Toronto) of Paris, just 200x longer and more grand. It was all in a sparkle of lights and crowded. We got trapped in the longest Christmas market there too – it was extremely uncomfortable with all the people and no escape for blocks!

We walked down to Place de la Concorde where there was a Ferris wheel, Egyptian obelisque, an ornate fountain, and food vendors.

photo of people buying candy beneath a ferris wheel

We were hungry, so got souvlaki on a baguette from a street vendor. I felt a bit robbed as it was 5€ a piece. We got a beer to share and walked down down the street (drinking in public is socially acceptable here!), admiring the city lights.

photo of a street lit up with lights
We passed the Paris opera house and went in search of a public washroom. Google Maps failed us, so we went to Starbucks instead. The Starbucks was unlike any we’d seen before! It looked like a 18th century ballroom with chandeliers, mirrors, and ornate woodwork.

We were getting cold, so we headed home, stopping in a grocery store where we picked up odds and ends for tomorrow.

NYE in Paris

After warming up at our flat, we set out to the Eiffel Tower. We packed a blanket, cheese, and champagne – but stopped for some mulled wine along the way. It was being sold on the sidewalk outside a small bistro by a very jolly server. It was much better than the mulled wine we had at the Christmas market yesterday – even had slices of lemon floating around in our cup!

We found a nice spot on the grass below the Eiffel Tower and had our picnic. There was no countdown and I found myself with a mouthful of baguette when the clock struck midnight! 2017 snuck up on me!

At midnight, the Eiffel Tower did its hourly sparkle light show. Some surrounding homes set off fireworks. There was popping of champagne bottles and some people started singing. It was all very civilized.

After we had a our fill of cheese, we walked down the Champ Des Mars with a bottle of champagne, making our way home through the winding streets. There were empty bottles of champagne on the sidewalk, women in furs and high heels smoking outside of bistros, and  street sellers hawking their wares.

Back at the flat, we sat at the kitchen table to finish our champagne, eating the creme caramel we’d bought at the grocery store earlier. Matt put on a countdown to NYE around the world and we watched footage of NYE in Times Square, reminiscing on our trip there the year before.

I got a good giggle out of the thin walls, enjoying the music at the French party next door. Loud neighbours are so much more palatable when you can’t understand a word they’re saying – and when you’re in Paris! We went to bed around 2:30, listening to the neighbours sing off key to French pop songs.

Goodbye 2016 – hello 2017!

photo of a fountain

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Arrival in Paris

Our arrival in Paris began with the easiest customs check ever. We were in and out with a smile in minutes! We got lost trying to find baggage claim, exiting the airport entirely. When that had happened before in Pearson airport, I had to line-up and go through security again – but not here! Information desk simply directed us to a set of doors where two other lost travellers were waiting and we were let back in by airport staff. No problem!

We took the bus to Eiffel Tower bus stop. Frost and ice covered much of the scenery on our way into the downtown core. Everything looked beautiful in the white dusting of frost – green grass and leaves all covered. It melted in the morning sun by the time we got downtown.
photo of people gathered below the Eiffel tower
We walked by the Eiffel Tower and found our AirBnB. It was in an old building on the fifth floor at the very top of a spiraling wooden staircase. We were both out of breath by the time we got to the top with our heavy bags.

After getting a tour of the flat with our host, we went out in search of food. I was craving a warm bowl of soup, so we stopped by Le Bistro de Gaspard, a restaurant past the military school. The staff there were very nice to us and made us feel welcome. I ordered pumpkin soup with bread and Matt had French onion soup. We then shared a charcuterie board of cheese, meat, and salad. It was so big we couldn’t finish it all! We were stuffed!

photo of a spiraling staircase

Grocery Shopping in Paris

After a short nap at our new home, we went grocery shopping. I love buying groceries in foreign countries and Paris was an absolute delight! All the packaging design was beautiful and everything looked delicious! We bought smoked salmon with dill, little jars of yogurt, pear juice, mineral water, some interesting looking beers, creme caramel, and of course – French champagne!

I went searching for milk, only to find it near the back in what I thought was the cleaning section. The milk jugs resembled containers of bleach! I thought it was odd such a large section of the store was dedicated to bleach and that it came in so many different sizes! But no – that was milk.
The French also seem to love their maple syrup. There was an array of it from Canada! I was a little disappointed as I’d brought maple syrup as a host gift, thinking it was something special from Canada that would be hard to get here. But no, maple surup is plentiful – and our AirBnB host already had some.

photo of the Eiffel tower lit up in lights

Walk from the Eiffel Tower to Notre-Dame

After dropping our groceries off, we went for an epic walk. I was tired and grumpy, but Matt assured me it would only take a hour. It didn’t take a hour – it took four.

First we went to the Eiffel Tower. Champ de Mars was all fenced off, which Matt was disappointed about. It looked like they’d just laid down new sod. We then wandered into a Christmas market called Eiffel on Ice. There you could go skating beneath the tower, buy roasted chestnuts, mulled wine and other delights. We got a glass of mulled wine to share as we watched the skaters and continued on our walk through the crowds and towards the garden to watch the tower’s hourly light show.

At the stroke of 8pm, the Eiffel tower literally sparkled. It was quite fun to watch. We took some pictures for some tourists and finished our mulled wine. Matt and I walked along the Seine river to Notre Dame Cathedral, seeing many sights along the way: Pont Neuf, City Hall, the Obelisque , Museum D’Orsay, and various other buildings. We walked across numerous bridges, back and forth across the Seine. So many in fact, neither Matt nor I could recall the number!

photo of the Notre Dame Cathedral at night
Matt wanted to show me the flying buttresses and gardens behind the Notre Dame Cathedral. The Cathedral looked eerie in the fog, framed by the bare tree branches, black against the starless night sky. The garden was closed for the night, so we made our way across another bridge.

Matt suddenly had a memory of this place and told me how on his first trip to Paris he had heard an accordian player play La Vie En Rose here in 1998. Just as the words escaped Matt’s mouth, we heard none other but an accordian across that same bridge!

We followed the sound of the music. At the centre of the bridge was a story teller talking to absent listeners about the Seine in a grand, booming voice. At the far end was a couple cuddling, listening to a song from the film Amelie on the accordian. Matt gave the musician two euros – one for this memory, and one for his first fond memory of this place.

The Self-Cleaning Public Washroom

After all that walking and mulled wine, I desperately had to go to the washroom. Surprisenly, there were no Starbucks or McDonalds to walk into use the facilities, so Matt got out a Google Map of public washrooms in the area.

After a desperate search, we found a free washroom – but this was a public washroom like no other! This was a fully automated, self-cleaning public washroom! It was a random pod on the sidewalk, like an oversized garbage bin!

A man was just exiting as we arrived. We watched as lights and a recorded voice guided us through the washroom’s process – from occupied, to cleaning (the floor, the toilet, and sink) then available for use! We pressed a button and the door opened, then closed all by itself. There was no seat on the toilet, nor did it flush – but you’d press a button to tell the computer what pressue to use when cleaning! There was then three stations over the sink – one to place your hand under for soap and water, then other to dry! I felt like I was a cog in the factory of sanitation!

We ended our journey at a French bistro for hot chocolate and crepe, with our first experience with a snooty French waiter. What with the exuberant cost of eating out in Paris and the French staff, I decided that grocery store meals were the way to go!

photo of the Eiffel tower

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Packing for Paris

Photo of a person holding a container of dry laundry soap, next to a fold-up washer and clothes line
Full knapsack and totebag on a bed
All packed for Paris!

This winter I will be going to the city of lovers… with my significant other! After two trips together to the States (New York City for New Years Eve and California for the CSUN Conference), my partner Matt and I will be embarking on our first trip abroad together – and what could be more romantic than France?! With his cap and my beret, we could name the trip The Adventures of the the Black Beret and Grey Cap Abroad, but that would be a mouthful.

We are each bringing one carry-on bag and a ‘purse’ (ie: large tote bag that passes as a purse). My packing list is very similar to that of my trip last summer packing for Germany, Prague, and Iceland, 

Here are some new additions and amendments to previous trips:

Picnic

We have promised to bring home French butter, and will likely be bringing back some cheese too. So, we will be packing a cooler bag, small ice packs (note ‘small’ – we are traveling with carry-on baggage only), and a ziplock bags. This will also be handy if we have any leftover food we need to take between Paris and Bordeaux on the 3 hour train ride. Picnic-en-transit!

Airline clothes

I’ve decided to set aside a specific set of clothes to wear on the plane to avoid the anxiety of “Does this shirt smell?” when in close quarters with others for an extended period of time.

Extra shoes

I have very sensitive feet and despite having the best footwear all my life, I still end up in anguish after a lot of walking. So, I will be bringing 3 pairs of shoes to switch between to distribute the pain evenly (ie: blisters). I also have new orthopedics and baby powder packed!

Laundry soap

As there are two of us, we expect to do at least one load of laundry. Although I had bought a backpack washer, the high cost of European laundromats is more palatable when there are two individuals to split the cost (and fill the washer) between. To reduce cost of buying soap at a premium, I brought one packet of dry laundry soap.

Photo of a person holding a container of dry laundry soap, next to a fold-up washer and clothes line
Backpack laundromat
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