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Americans in Paris

May 2, 2012

Bonjour, mon amis!

Ever since I could remember my mid-twenties, after my crazy college partying days were behind me and I could start thinking rationally again, I wanted to celebrate my 30th birthday in France. Back then, it seemed so far away that I could have wished I’d be celebrating it on the moon and it would be all the same. But how time flies, and this year, my dream came true.

We jetted to Paris on a direct flight from SEA-CDG Charles De Gaulle Airport on Delta. The entertainment was crappy and they played all the movies we’ve already seen on a tiny screen dangling over my head, but thanks to the free unlimited chardonnay I managed the flight just fine.

Most of our time we stayed in Paris at Le Méridien Etoile, which was an excellent choice. The metro station was a block away. The area was filled with Brasseries and cafes yet quiet so we could rest well after long days of sightseeing. The room was American size (read: Super size), clean, with modern decor. It also helped that we got upgraded to an executive room after I complained politely pointed out to the front desk about the “funny” smell that our pre-assigned standard room had.  It was not as awesome, upgrade-wise, as we received when vacationing in Rome when the door handle literally fell off the door, but I like the pattern where if you are nice about it, you can easily get a better room at no extra charge.

On the first night, after a long post-travel nap, we enjoyed a midnight stroll to the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel tower.

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The streets were mostly empty and dimly lit with the Brasseries signs and street lamps. The sky was filled with stars and a few puffy clouds. The golden glow of the Eiffel Tower lured us from the distance, and as soon as we got near we saw it twinkling like a holiday decoration. Little did we know that it was just a tease and two minutes later it went completely dark. Who would have thought that Eiffel tower lights get turned off?! Have not these folks been to Vegas? Eric and I still hung out for awhile (ok, I admit, we were totally making out on a bench across the Eiffel tower. They don’t call it a city of love for nothing Red heart).

The next day we got woken up but a housekeeping call even though we left the Do-Not-Disturb sign up. I was mad to receive a call from the front desk at 9:30 on Saturday morning. Oh wait, Eric looked at his watch upside-down. It’s 1:30 in the afternoon. Oops! We rushed to get some sightseeing done.

Since there was not enough time to hit the museums, we headed to Bon Marche to check out the latest French fashions, which pretty much turned out to be the well-known top designers– but with euro instead of dollar tags. Boring! The only difference from Nordy’s is the pretty ceilings and fancy china. It was pretty cool to see the tea set my grandma used to have. I wonder if she got it from France.

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We stopped at a great grocery store nearby – La Grande Epicure Paris, which reminded me of Whole Foods, as if it was run by French people. It was packed, overpriced, and tres chic.

After picking up a baguette, fresh goat cheese (which later would become our staple afternoon snack) we headed to Jardin du Luxembourg for a small picnic. Paris has lots of gardens and parks with beautiful sculptures, fountains and landscaping. Even on a cloudy day, the kids were having a blast sailing little toy boats in the grand fountain.

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For day three, we requested an official wake up call and headed to Versailles, expecting warmer and sunnier weather based on the forecast. As we were riding the train, we watched the sun remain in Paris, while heavy grey clouds began to appear slowly in the distance. (Why does rain follow me around?) Luckily it did not rain in Versailles, but it being Easter Sunday, the place was packed with tourists. That’s the one downside to going to Paris — one of the top tourist cities in the world. Many interesting spots have a minimum wait of an hour or two, which tends to kill the romance of the place.

We slowly strolled to Marie Antoinette’s estate, marveling at the beautifully shaped gardens, until we realized that the walk would be a few kilometers. We picked up the pace to a brisk walk to keep warm.

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Marie was one girly-queen. Her entire palace was pink – the outside was made of pink marble and hot pink silk decorated the walls and the furniture.

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On the way back we watched “the fountain opera.” If you’ve seen Bellagio fountain show, you would not be very impressed. I am still bitter about the 8 euros they charge for garden access (supposedly to pay for the show), but Eric was quite fond of it. I am guessing because we got to cuddle on a grass lawn. Smile

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Then we headed back to the main courtyard to brave a two-hour line to the main Versailles palace. Once inside, it took us less than an hour to get through all the rooms, as crowds of tourists pushed us from behind. This place was busier than the Sistine Chapel!

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Thankfully, our visit to the Louvre was much better — after we skipped the line by purchasing tickets ahead of time at the hotel’s concierge.

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Did you know that besides the fabulous sculptures and paintings, the Louvre has a fantastic view of the Eiffel Tower? You just have to find a tiny window in one of the art rooms, and voila!

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The Mona Lisa was incredibly disappointing. It was hung in a giant room with giant paintings all around it, so it looked tiny and bleak in comparison. It was covered with thick, UV shielded glass, and you could only get within 20 feet of it if you had pointy elbows and weren’t afraid to use them.

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I was much more impressed with the double-sided David and Goliath and Eric was delighted to find a full wall of his favorite Italian painter – Giovanni Pannini. We have a replica of one of his works hanging in our living room.

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Now, Venus de Milo took me by surprise – I didn’t realize it was life-size. The Louvre has an amazing collection of Roman sculptures.

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We  studied the treasures of art for a couple of hours  and goofed around just for a bit.

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After the Louvre we walked over to the Eiffel Tower taking gazillions of pictures along the way.

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The next morning, we left the hotel early and headed to one of the local food markets, but more on that in my next post. Afterwards, we walked over to the Notre Dame.  I was particular excited to see the Notre Dame as I’ve read the story of Hunchback of Notre-Dame when I was little (and let me tell you it does not end well, despite what Disney would have you believe.)

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Its Gothic architecture reminded me a bit of Sagrada Familia which we visited in Barcelona. Inside, it’s gorgeous with lots of stained-glass mosaics.
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The best part is up the Notre Dame bell tower.

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The view was worth the 2 hour wait in the rain.

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My gargoyle Eric waiting for his lady to come rescue him.

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In awe of Notre Dame, we decided to check out another famous monastery on top of Montmartre hill.

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Montmartre is an old arts district which was filled with poets and painters centuries ago. Now it’s transformed into souvenir shops and weird graffiti. (On the topic of unexpected wall art, how is it that Portland has a poster in the Parisian metro and Seattle does not?)

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Lots of famous people are buried in Paris, so I really wanted to stop by Jim Morrison’s grave in the Pere Lachaise cemetery. It was not what I expected it to be – closely surrounded by other graves, a bit run down, with barely any identification but the name plate and flowers from hardcore fans.

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Edith Piaf’s grave was just as humble, shared with her husband and daughter. In case you are wondering about my facial expressions, my mom always said it’s not good to smile at cemeteries, so here is me not smiling.

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We wrapped up our sightseeing with Pompidou Center. It’s a modern art museum with a super cool fountain. On the way to the airport, I saw a sign for a Matisse exhibit at Pompidou, but we just missed it Sad smile

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TO BE CONTINUED…

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. May 2, 2012 9:24 pm

    So jealous! Looks like an amazing trip!

  2. kristin tidd permalink
    May 2, 2012 10:09 pm

    Looks like to guys had a blast! Can’t wait to hear about the rest of your trip. Also loving the grey leather jacket!!

  3. ITDAME permalink
    May 3, 2012 9:50 am

    Jane wrote: ‘It was pretty cool to see the tea set my grandma used to have. I wonder if she got it from France.’

    We still keep this tea/coffee set and Baba brought it from Russia carrying it on her lap all the way to Canada as a gift for her future grand – grandchildren. It is made by Russian Imperial Lomonosov Porcelain manufactory. Baba and Deda bought it in Leningrad (St. Petersburg) years before you were born.
    http://www.ekaterinas.com/
    She would have been so happy to see its picture posted in your blog. Check out the link. It was founded in 1744 by Peter the Great’s daughter, Empress Elizabeth.
    Remarkable trip, great pictures, very nice couple.

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