Archive for the ‘ Paris 2010 ’ Category

7.7.7…A.K.A: Time To Get Our Celebration On…

After our walk back the center of Reims, we hit the room for a quick wardrobe change.  We decided to go to a seafood restaurant for our anniversary dinner.  The food looked good when we walked by the night before, and I can hardly resist the charms of Larry the Lobster walking around in a tank, blissfully unaware that he is about to be my dinner.  Okay, just kidding.  That sounds cruel.  I really prefer all lobster murdering to go on behind the scenes & I am the one that is blissfully unaware.  But thanks to Food, Inc. I no longer have that luxury…but that is a whole other blog post.

So, we are seated on the sidewalk and order our frosty beverages.  I really wanted a mojito, however nobody in Reims seemed to have heard of it.  Or maybe it was my Southern  pronounciation that was throwing them off.  You know how I say it:  mow-hee-toe.    They don’t call me the Geico pothole for nothin’, y’all.

Anyway, Brian placed his order with our server & tried to order a salad.   The server acted like he was crazy (how did he know?  does our reputation precede us, even in Europe?).  Through a series of hand gestures and charades, the waiter conveyed to us that Brian ordered a very large meal & a salad would be overkill.  We took his word for it…And when he brought this double decker plate set up to the table, we figured he probably did have a point:

And I went with the less epic, yet equally delicious:

After dinner we walked around for a bit, and treated ourselves to an ice cream cone.   We stopped at a few bars for a cocktail or four, but nothing really enticed us long enough to stay.  Plus we were pretty tired from the events of the day.  We headed back to our room & fell asleep in about 3.8 seconds, give or take a 0.1 second or two.

The next day we hit our favorite breakfast spot again.  The coffee was delish.

Then back to our room to pack up & check out.  Our train was not scheduled to leave Reims until 4 p.m & we were really all Reims’d out.  So we went to the train station & upgraded to a direct train that left at 11 a.m.  Double score!

Good bye, Reims!  Don’t forget to write!

So we loaded up & headed to the train station.  Guess what, Paris??  The Griswolds Phillips’ are baaaaaackkkk!

P.S.  If you are interested in reading more about our fabulous wedding, visit http://ashleeandbrian.weddingannouncer.com/

Hanging Out In Reims With The Man Of My Dreams

So after nearly a week in Paris, we embarked on yet another exciting adventure…going to Reims.  Reims is about an hour and ten minute train ride from Paris.  Our plan was to head to Reims today, hang out & get our bearings, then find out the best place to be for the Tour de France stage ending there the following day. 

And away we go!  Brian was not feeling the best.  I think our late night, plus the illness he battled for the majority of the trip, were taking a toll on him. 

We caught our subway from Tuileries to Gare du Nord train station.  It was a Twilight Zone-esque kind of place.  All sorts of strange birds were flying around, including actual birds, in a hurry.  We were unsure how long it would take to get to the train station & aboard our train, so we were actually very early.  At this point, I was really exhausted and tired of having to think so much.  My high school French was not nearly as good as I thought…thanks a lot, Madame Connell. 

Fortunately we were safe during our stay at the train station.  And this gives a whole new meaning to security guard:

Finally it was time to board our train.  In fact, we nearly missed it.  We did not realize that the destination screens displayed only the final destinations…since we had a connector train (more on this later), it did not show our destination on screen.

After we settled in for a long winter’s nap for our train ride, Brian took a much needed siesta, and I attempted to take pictures of the countryside.  Unfortunately, I ended up with a lot of blurry shots of bushes:

After we switched trains in Epernay, I was able to get a few decent vineyard shots.  After all, we were headed to champagne country.

When the train arrived in the Reims station, we weren’t quite sure what to do next.  Everything I read about our hotel said it was “just minutes” from the train station.  However, “just minutes” in which direction was not specified.  I had done a google maps walking tour of the town before we left (I really know how to burn up some free time)…however, it appeared there was some remodeling going on & detours set up everywhere.  I vaguely remembered virtually ‘walking’ through a park to get to the city center.  We saw a park past the construction & off we went. 

It turns out we were about a city block from our hotel.  After walking through the park, we ended up in a cute area that was closed to vehicle traffic.  Both sides of the street were lined with restaurants, hotels, cafes, and bars.  We just had to figure out how to get to ours.  Finally we found it:  Latino Cafe.  Latino Cafe in Reims, France.  Makes sense.

This was our first experience with a room that did not have air conditioning.  Since it was a sweltering 95 degrees outside, I knew this could get interesting.  Our check in experience was okay…They spoke about as much English as we did French, so after a lot of pointing & head nodding, we found our way to Chambre Huit. 

Our room was open to the street, and the view was excellent.  Three flights up the narrow, steep stairs, less excellent.  The room itself was no frills, but clean and had a funky little decor going on…I liked it!  We were happy to be out of Paris and in this cute little town. 

The views from our window…

We were both starving at this point, so we headed downstairs & decided to try the food right at our hotel.  Delish!

After dinner, we walked around the city for a little bit to get acquainted with our surroundings.  Lots of bars and people milling around, but we were so tired we went back to the room around 11 p.m.   We left the windows open while sleeping & around 2 pm, the restaurant below up really cranked things up…I never heard them but Brian said they were having a whole lotta fun down there.

The next day, we got up and headed out for breakfast.  We found an excellent breakfast spot & had the best coffee of our trip.  The food wasn’t too shabby either:

After breakfast, we decided to head towards the tourism office to find out about the Tour de France.  We figured they would know, and hoped that someone there would speak enough English to point us in the right direction.  We were right!

The tourism office was right behind the Notre Dame Cathedral in Reims.  This was a huge cathedral that was once where France appointed their kings. 

We walked around the Cathedral and took in some of its history.  The intricate detailing truly took our breath away.  Some of the statues were beginning to crumble due to age, and they were being redone by historians.  An exhibit was set up in the church showing how this process was completed.

And Brian found a flat penny (or would that be euro?) machine for Chloe…well, sort of flat penny.  More like a gold coin.

After touring the church, Brian decided to head back to the room for a few minutes so I could do some shopping.  We decided to meet back in an hour, so we could start heading out for our 30 minute walk to the Tour de France stage finishing area.

I hit a few cute little shops, plus Monoprix.  Basically this store was a French version of Target & had cute little inexpensive items.  I was disappointed there was no Isaac Mizrahi for Monoprix line, but I did pick up a cute gray ballerina sweater!

After my little shopping excursion & Brian little nappy poo, we were off!  Heading out of the Reims city center to the Tour de France stage finish!

What we encountered a long the way:

After all that walking, guess what we needed next:

Paris: Day 5, Part 1. Our “Paris Greeter” Experience.

Day 5 was a super busy day, so I am dividing into two parts.  Brian had not been feeling 100% this whole trip, and he felt the very worst this morning.  He had a fever & night sweats during the night, and woke up with the world’s worst sore throat.  Being a trooper, he took some ibuprofen and we stuck to our previously arranged meeting with our Paris Greeter.

Paris Greeter is something I stumbled upon through the forums at TripAdvisor.com.  Basically volunteers are paired with tourists for a 3-4 hour tour of the city, free of charge (more or less…they do ask for a donation to keep their program afloat).  Our appointment with our PG was planned for 12:30 p.m.  My military man had us arrive 30 minutes early, because we all know that ‘early’ is the definition of ‘on time’ (gotta love my Navy man).  This 30 minutes gave me a few minutes to take some photos & people watch the very busy area where we were slated to meet our guy. 

Our PG described himself in an email as “elderly and white bearded”…we had no idea how many elderly, white bearded gentlemen were roaming the streets of Paris until we were looking for the one that was trying to meet us!  Le Mistral in the photo above was our meeting point…we found our PG with little incident (the briefcase and darting eyes gave him away) and away we went!

I am embarrassed to say that we never actually caught our PG’s name.  He was incredibly enthusiastic about Paris, and about giving these tours.  His English was not the easiest to understand, so we found ourselves listening very closely & asking for things to be repeated on more than one occasion.  Still, it was an incredibly interesting experience & one I would recommend.  Our PG was very outgoing, and would stop and chat with just about everyone we passed on the street.  When he spoke in French, he and the other person would look at us & giggle.  Of course, we had no idea what they were saying (Again with the nail shop experience 🙂 )  One interesting guy had been a soldier in WWII.  Now he sold used books along side the Seine River.  He pointed to a ‘soldes’ sign on his books, and said he marked everything down to sell out.  His future plans were to sit in front of his big TV & die.  I guess he had enough?  I really wanted to look through some of his secondhand books because they looked quite interesting.  Unfortunately our PG was ready to dart off in another direction, as he moved forward with remarkable gait for a man in his 70’s. 

Our next stop was Shakespeare & Co.

Here is our PG engaged in conversation with the store clerk:

Next we were walking along & all of sudden our PG ducked into a hotel…Hotel Esmerelda.  He wanted us to see the inside of the lobby, with a staircase that dated back to the 1700’s:

Apparently he had a thing for staircases, as our next stop was a random office building, to check out this winding wrought iron rail:

As I mentioned earlier, Brian was not feeling well on Day 5.  The PG figured this out & immediately took us to the pharmacy:

With the help of our PG’s translation, the pharmacist prescribed some medication for Brian’s fever & sore throat, as well as a mouth rinse.  Then we were on our way once again.

While we were walking, we ran into two Americans that appeared to be lost.  The PG asked if they needed help, and the next thing I knew, these 2 had joined our Paris Greeter walking tour.  These 2 were from Arkansas, and they were a couple of strange cats.  The lady seemed resistant to joining us, but her friend could not be talked out of it.

Here we are with our new friends:

So, maybe we have seen one too many conspiracy theory movies, but Brian started to feel like this was a set up…It was a little too convenient that we just happened upon these people, and they just happened to join us on our walk, and they just happened to speak French.  It was all a little ‘familiar’.  Combine that, with the next stop on our ‘tour’ was a thieves passage (a long windy staircase that took us to another back alley), it had Brian all kinds of worried about stranger danger & he was putting the whole plot together in his head:

Luckily, it didn’t turn into a diabolical plot like he thought, but that certainly would have added some unexpected ‘dimension’ to our day!  And I am glad that someone is paying attention, because we all know that I am too busy taking pictures to have a clue.

Next we went by a wine shop with a cellar that dated back to the 1700’s.

 

Unfortunately it was closed.  I think our PG forgot that our tour was on a Monday, a day when lots of businesses are closed.  Several of the places on our stop we were only able to see from the outside.

A movie was being filmed by this cute cafe:

I didn’t see any celebs though.  Or at least, any that I recognized.

This place used to be a dorm back in the 1950’s, and our PG lived there for a summer during that time.  If we visit Paris again, I would check into staying there.  The room rates were very reasonable and it was loaded with character & charm…We stopped in for a Coke (and a smile) in their courtyard.

Comment on this post if you are interested in the name of this hotel…I have their business card mixed in with my souvenirs, and will gladly sift through for the contact information. 

We walked around the corner, and went by Hemingway’s apartment.  The French lovvvvve some Hemingway, and they even put up a plaque by his old place:

After walking around for another 20 minutes or so, we said Au Revoir to our Paris Greeter, and headed back to the 1st arr.

We exited one stop early from the subway to enjoy a streetside walk on Rue du Rivoli…As soon as we exited, we noticed a magazine photo shoot going on:

That was pretty neat to see!  I felt badly for the model in that big wedding gown, because the temperature was a boiling 96 degrees.

On the way back to our room, we stopped by our favorite market for some Heineken & snacks.  Even the liquor bottles are all dressed up in Paris:

Stay tuned for the rest of our Day 5 adventure…a walking tour of Montmartre, and a trip to the Moulin Rouge area…Time to get our Lady Marmalade on!

Paris: Day 4

Day 4 was a Sunday, and we opted to sleep in for the first time of our vacay…and at this point, we needed the extra rest. 

All of the museums in Paris offer free admission the first Sunday of every month, and we scheduled our Louvre visit to coincide.  We got up & at ’em around 1:00 pm, and went for our short walk to the Louvre. 

We picked up a crudite, pain au chocolat, and Coke Light at the Paul sandwich cart.  After a quick bite to eat on the very crowded Louvre lawn, we headed inside the massive structure.  I was curious to see what the inside looked like, since we had visited the outside nearly every day of our trip.  One amazing tip:  enter the Louvre at the Porte de Lyons entrance.  Most everyone lines up to enter the main entrance at the pyramid.  Seriously…an hour long wait kind of line, just to get in the door.  We walked RIGHT IN the Porte de Lyons entrance.  Zero line.  I felt badly for the people waiting in line in the sweltering heat.

The Louvre was beautiful.  Although the artwork was amazing, I was truly more impressed with the building itself.  Since neither of us are art buffs, we decided to hit the highlights:  the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, and a few other fan favorites:

 

We wandered around a bit, then decided to rent an audio tour.  After some trouble we (finally) located the audio tour rental booth, paid our 17 euros and geared up for our 3 hour guided tour…except, not really.  The audio tours had not been updated for some time, and the first stop on the tour was closed for renovations.  We tried to follow the rest of it, but could never seem to get our bearings & figure out where we were supposed to be.  In other words, these tours leave a lot to be desired.  We did head down to the basement, and got a chance to see the original foundation work from the 1200’s. 

I am still amazed at the quality and beauty of the Louvre, even more so considering how OLD that place really is.  Truly remarkable.

Although we probably did not get to fully appreciate the Louvre & its artistic offerings, we felt we had seen enough after about 3 hours.  We headed back to our room for a quick…wait for it…wardrobe change…then a pit stop at Carr’s to figure out our next move.

We were not exactly sure what we wanted to do at this point, and had a few things to mark off the ol’ bucket list.  So as we sat & deliberated, I noticed something on the ‘must see’ list given to us on Day 2 from Kate,  the Bike About Tours guide.  Le Cinquante was on the list, and they recommended a visit on Sunday night.  At 6 p.m., locals gather to drink and sing “traditional French folk songs” in a bar atmosphere.  Local time on my watch:  5:30 pm.  Perfect.

We hopped on the subway and headed to Le Cinquante.  I would like to give a special shout out to my sweetheart of a husband for navigating the subways so well.  Because Lord knows, if left up to me, we would have ended up who knows where.

We arrived around 5:50 p.m. and the place was deserted.  It was definitely a local hang out, and we felt pretty out of place. 

The bartender was very nice though, and did her best to be accomodating.  We really appreciated her hospitality.

The crowd started rolling in around 6:30 p.m. & we were handed a song book.  The guitarist did a great job keeping the crowd involved, and we found it funny that several Rolling Stones songs were included in the French folk song book 🙂 

We had a great time, and it was a very unique experience.  When we left, around 8:30, check out the crowd that had packed in:

We walked around the ‘hood for a little bit…the foot traffic was stopped by a drawbridge, which was pretty cool.  I could definitely see this area being in a movie.  It was what I ‘expected’ from a French neighborhood. 

Since it was around 8:30 p.m. or so, we were getting pretty hungry.  After a couple of unsuccessful attempts to find a cafe, we ducked into a sandwich shop for a panini and French fries.  I know, I know.

Afterward, we hit the subway & headed towards Champs-Elysee, for an entirely different French experience.

We ended up getting off one subway stop too early & had a little longer walk to the Champs than we anticipated.  We strolled along though, taking in the sites.  Some guy had a tricked out Ferrari that was parallel parked on the street…About 30 people were crowded around the car taking pictures; some sitting on it, licking the windows, posing on the hood.  It was completely ridiculous!  The guy didn’t seem to mind either…maybe he was used to it?  But seriously, people.  Seriously?

This was the best shot I could get of the Ferrari, through the pack of people laying all over it:

Louis Vuitton’s flagstore store was definitely the most exciting place of the Champs visit for me (though I did not do any shopping).  Shopping + BBP go together like oil and vinegar.  And not in a mixes together to make a delicious salad dressing kind of way.  So I already knew going in that this would be a ‘memory making’ trip–not be a ‘shopping’ trip for me.  And I was just fine with that. 

After taking the obligatory tourist photos in front of the Champs Elysee, and admiring its grand beauty, we were hungry again.  (Almost as surprising as another wardrobe change might be, right?)  We hit Applebee’s Chez Clement for a decent (but not outstanding) meal:

After dinner and a few more stops along the Champs, we headed back to our neck of the woods on the subway.  Since we weren’t quite ready to call it a night, we ended up back at the Louvre with our blankey and bottle of wine.  I just love the way the sky looked at night, and this is my view from ground zero (as in laying on the ground, looking up):

Vive la France!

Tomorrow:  Day 5 with our Paris Greeter, and walking tour of Montmartre/Moulin Rouge area.

Paris: Day 3, Part Deux

Everyday in Paris felt like a week, and I am starting to understand why…We did a lot of stuff!  Every.single.day.  At the time, it did not seem that extraordinary, but shazamm!  After looking at the pictures, and narrating each day, we were some busy peeps.

…..so where were we?  We left the cooking school, and made our way back to our hotel for a quick wardrobe change.  Place Vendome was right around the corner from us, and I was dying to get over there.  As a big fan of Chanel (both the cosmetics & the woman), I was anxious to check out her original store plus her fancy digs at the Ritz.  Place Vendome is a circular castle of sorts, divided in the middle by a road.  Both sides are separated by a huge cobblestone courtyard.  Coco Chanel, in the height of her business career lived on one side in the Ritz Hotel and her shop was on the other. 

We strolled around the Place Vendome area, and did some window shopping in case we win the lottery someday.  It was definitely the Rodeo Drive area of Paris.

After a day of cooking & palace strolling, we inevitably worked up an appetite.  So, being the adventurous diners that we are, we headed–where else—our favorite pizza joint:

Instead of ordering just one pizza, tonight we made it a double:

The food (and Heineken) once again did not disappoint.

After the pizza, we walked up a block to Tuileries to see what was going on at the carnival to people watch and relax for a few minutes.  When we got there, I had the bright idea of a scenic ride on the swinging car of death ferris wheel.

Some of our views of the city:

I love the ‘action’ shot with the swings in the background on this one:

After we were in the air, I remembered that I don’t particularly care for heights OR carnival rides…so it was not the most relaxing ferris wheel ride.  When we were safely on the ground again, we walked around for a few minutes  then headed back to the hotel for a wardrobe change.  (What??  You should know me well enough by now to realize this is the norm…)

Then we were back to Place Vendome for a twilight stroll and adventure inside the Ritz.  Now, let me just say, the Ritz certainly earns its moniker.  That joint is Ritz-y.  We approached the door, and I was sure the doorman would bounce us…or whisk us off to the kitchen as ‘help’.  But no, to my surprise, we were greeted with a Bonsoir & allowed to enter the stunning hotel.  A wedding was being held there, based on the signs, but we really did not see any evidence of such.  The Ritz in Paris is, by far, the most magnificent, elegant, modern day palace I have ever entered.  I did not take a ton of pictures (what??  I know when to say when), but it was jaw dropping.  Here is one of BBP in the courtyard:

We were going to go to the Hemingway Bar for a drink, but after peering inside, it appeared we would be the only patrons.  I wasn’t sure what was going on, so we decided to forgo the drink & head out to see what other trouble we could find for ourselves.

We did not walk far before Brian was nearly knocked down by the cold, cold air conditioner of a restaurant.  It was pouring on to the sidewalk and after only 3 days in Paris, we had developed a deep and abiding love for good ol’ AC.  We quickly decided to duck in for a drink.  As soon as we approached the bar, our soon to be favorite bartender (Robert) offered an ice cold beer in a frozen mug…a.k.a.  liquid heaven.  After we got settled in to the bar, we began to notice our surroundings.  Chuck Barry music, wooden bar, vintage memorabilia decor…it all felt very familiar.  I asked Brian, “What is this?  Applebee’s?”  He said, “No.  American Dreams Cafe.”  Close enough.

We ended up spending the rest of our evening in this place; having drinks with Robert & watching the world go by on the sidewalk.  For some reason he liked us, and every time he made a drink for someone else, he gave us the leftovers.  Best strawberry dacquiri I have ever had in my life.

Whenever BBP goes to the bathroom, I feel the need to photograph my shoes/handbags.  Yeah, I don’t know why either.  (For any of my facebook friends, that explains the random shoe & purse photos in my albums.)

Apparently they have Costco in France too!  But only for giant bottles of Bacardi.

…We stumbled strolled back to our hotel around 12:30 a.m. & fell asleep before our heads hit the pillow.  Another wonderful day in Paris.

Next stop:  Day 4 at the Louvre!

Paris: Day 3

Brian was excited about yet another early morning activity that I planned…our trip to the Parisian markets & cooking class with a real, live French chef.  We hopped on the train around 8:45 a.m. and headed off to the Jules Verne subway stop.

Can’t you just feel the excitement from this picture??

So we arrive about 20 minutes early, and when we emerge from the underground subway tunnel, lo and behold:  it’s raining.  Like a monsoon.  We ducked under a bus stop canopy and watched the world go by for a few minutes.  It was nice to see “real” French people going about their daily routine, and we welcomed the cooler air that the rain brought with it. 

While we were standing under the bus stop shelter, a dad & little boy ducked in to wait for the bus.  The little boy was probably about 3 years old, sporting a thick mop of red hair and a cute yellow rain slicker.  He was chatting away to his dad in French with so much enthusiasm…and though I didn’t have a clue what he was saying, I couldn’t help but smile.  It was a special moment— just ‘being’—taking  in the sights, sounds, and smells of Paris on a rainy morning…(We didn’t mean to give the other 2 senses, taste & touch, the short end of the stick, but we were in public & this is a family show). 

Our chef arrived at the designated meeting point, along with three other people that were taking the class.  We headed to the market area a few streets over.  Our first stop was by the horsemeat butcher.  Yes, that’s right.  The special butcher that handles only horsemeat.  Look out, Mr. Ed!  We did not venture in to the horsemeat butcher as our chef said that they aren’t very “tourist friendly”…as in, get out of here, Dorothy & take your little dog too.  Clearly, we weren’t in Kansas anymore.

Next stop was the cheese shop.  Brian was surprised by how expensive the cheeses were–in fact, we spent more money in the cheese shop than any other place in the market.

I was most surprised by the use of visual aids in the cheese shop.  Let me explain:  the cheese was divided into sections, depending on its animal of origin.  Just to keep it simple, they also included a picture of the animal above each cheese shelf.  This one was my favorite…she sure looks sassy:

Our next stop in the market was the butcher, followed by the fish market.  It was a good thing we had our chef with us, or we would have pretty much been clueless…At least with his ‘translation’ we had his version of what was happening.  I still felt a little bit like I do when I am getting my nails done.  (You know, when the nail ladies all start looking at you and talking in Vietnamese, then one says, “we say you so pretty!”…Of course that’s what you’re saying…)

After ducking into Harris Teeter a little produce market for veggies,

We made a quick stop by the bakery, then off to our classroom to get this par-tay started…which was probably a good thing, since all we had for breakfast was a baguette that I stashed in my purse from the day before and a piece of cheese that BBP snagged from the “free” breakfast buffet at our hotel (more on this later).

Our classroom was modern & utilitarian.  I checked around to see if Jamie Oliver may appear, but sadly no celebrity chef cameos were in the cards. 

Ready,

Set,

Go!

After a whole lotta work, BAM!  This is what we ended up with:

LANGOUTINES EN POELÉ D’ARTICHAUTS ET DE TOMATES CŒUR DE BŒUF

COQUELET FARCI AUX OIGNONS DOUX, ENDIVE CARAMÉLISÉE

MOUSSE AU CHOCOLAT NOIR, COULIS DE FRAISES

Thanks Chef Brian…and Chef Brian…for all of your hard work (and for emailing the recipes to me)!

After leaving the cooking school, we made our way back to the subway station.  The weather had cleared up & it turned out to be a pretty nice afternoon.  Back to the hotel for a quick wardrobe change, and we were off again.  This time we headed towards Place Vendome, Chanel, the Ritz Carlton, the Opera District, and to meet our soon to be favorite bartender:  Robert at American Dreams Cafe.  Since I have so much to post regarding these places, and this post is already rivaling a Victor Hugo novel in length, I am going to wrap up Day 3 in a new post.  Day 3:  Part Deux!!

Paris: Day 2

Our second day in Paris:  the part where the fun really begins.

We woke up early to meet our “Bike About Tours” group.  The group meeting point was at Notre Dame Cathedral, by the Charlemagne statue up front.  Sounds easy enough, right?  We set off with the “Google Maps” walking directions from our hotel to Notre Dame that I printed before we left for Paris.  Naturally, we got lost.  Lesson 1:  the street names seemed to change with no real rhyme or reason.  Streets also turned & continued in a completely different direction…and there were no signs indicating the route change.  Almost instantly, we missed the neatly numbered-in-a-grid-like-fashion streets of NYC from our trip 2 summers ago.  This was like a foreign country or something.  Oh yeah.  It was.

We arrived about 10 minutes early for the biking tour, and found the Charlemagne statue.  After patting ourselves on the back for getting lost, finding our way, and still being 10 minutes early, we took a few obligatory tourist photos.  I know this may come as a shock to many of you, since I rarely take photos. 

Our group of 12 walked over to Hotel de Ville (Cruella’s house…just kidding–it really means City Hall & the mayor hangs out here to do mayorish stuff).  Our tour leader was Kate.  She did a great job, not only pointing out the important sites, but biking safely.  As a result, all 12 of us made it out of the biking tour alive.  If you have seen me bike, you know what I mean.  Sadly for some old guy, I was not the worst biker in the group.   Or maybe he was faking it so I didn’t feel bad?

We followed Kate for SIX HOURS as she biked us around the heart of Paris.  We saw & learned a lot of cool stuff, including (but not limited to):

*Gargoyles are really just fancy gutters.  Totally working some of that action into my next house.  Or is that over the top?

*The Marais (typically a Jewish/gay neighborhood) was one of my favorites in Paris.  I loved the energy.  It was quieter, yet seemed like a lot was going on, if that makes sense (?).  We stopped briefly by a school yard in the Marais, and heard children playing at recess.  Children’s laughter & play time apparently sounds the same in every language.

*We saw a bunch of random doors.  As in, the building crumbled long ago, but the door still remained intact. 

*We saw The Doors.  No really.  We saw the house where Jim Morrison died. 

*We saw dog poop on the sidewalks.  Apparently the problem has greatly improved, but we did see our fair share.  I guess in a big city, with lots of dogs, it is part of the landscape.  Still…not what I envisioned of Paris.  Certainly not what they print on the  notepads with Parisian landscapes that I buy in the $1 bins at Target.

*The space invader guy.  These were interesting little guys, and after they were pointed out to us on the biking tour, we noticed them throughout the city each day of our trip.  Basically about 20 years ago, some masked artist went around the city with little tiles & randomly constructed space invader/the ghosts from PacMan on building corners.  The French loved the whimsy so much, they left them intact.  Now it is a part of the artistic culture.  It did make an interesting juxtaposition–a 300 year old structure with a 1980’s style Atari character discreetly hanging out on the corner.  After Atari guy (who is still anonymous) made his Parisian debut, he decided his little tile creations were awesome & went global.  Apparently you can find them in major cities in pretty much every country.  Who knew? 

*Victor Hugo’s house.  Wow, this was quite the ‘hood.  Funny he was a Richie Rich, when all of his books were about the Poory Poor. 

*Doors often lead to courtyards, instead of buildings.  Building facades were often just faces for beautiful courtyards, and other buildings.  I found this fascinating.  Made me want to peek into every building that I passed, to see what was going on behind it.  To avoid being arrested, I refrained.  You never know when that guillotine might make a comeback!

*The super high arched doorways were not for aesthetics…They were for passage of horse & carriages into the courtyards.  After learning this fun fact, I regurgitated it back to Brian every building that we passed.  Finally, he let me know that he understood their intended purpose.

*Brian can actually take pictures WHILE riding a bike.  This was nothing short of amazing to me, considering I could barely avoid crashing, with 110% of my focus on preventing that very occurence.

*Medieval streets.  Seriously.  Incredibly narrow cobblestone “roads” with low buildings, each with a different provencial look.  Deju vue of Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, anyone?  (I also conjured up images of cartoons with characters standing on roofs & throwing fiery torches into the street…but that’s just me).

After wrapping up our SIX HOUR (again, I like to say it for emphasis) bike tour, we returned our bikes to Hotel de Ville & headed back to our hotel.  The Irish Pub on the corner, Carr’s, seemed to be calling us.  We obliged & popped in for a quick Carling.  First cold beer of our trip…couldn’t have appeared at a better time.  Especially since the weather was unseasonably hot—in the mid 90’s.  Of course, there was no air conditioning, but the windows were open & a breeze was blowing.  And that Carling sure was cold.  The bar was empty, except for us, and the bartender let Brian go behind the bar for a photo…in fact, it was his idea.  And you know that I will stop at nothing for cornball/touristy photos.

 On a side note, when we first arrived at the bar, I ordered a Guinness.  Let me just say that again:  A Guinness.  I saw the sign outside & thought, sure, I will try something new.  I have seen others drink Guinness, and they seem to be really popular to those that like them.  Plus, I liked saying it.  Like it made me a “real” beer drinker.  Imagine my surprise when I realized I was drinking motor oil.  Brian finished it for me, but not without making fun the rest of the trip 🙂

After a few more Carlings (I learned my Guinness lesson), we headed up to the room for a quick wardrobe change.  Then we hit a little market for 2 bottles of wine & some plastic cups (so chic); loaded up our bookbag, and looked for a bite to eat.  When we saw this sign, we were lured in by their promises of pizza and air conditioning:

Sure, pizza isn’t the most Parisian meal (or was it??  we saw more pizza restaurants than French ones).  But we were hungry & tired, and air conditioning sounded pretty amazing at this point.   We enjoyed a DELICIOUS pizza and a couple of Heinekens.  Excellent choice.  So much so, we ate at this same joint 2 more times during the trip.  Talk about getting exotic with our food choices.

Next we headed down to the Seine River to drink our wine & hopefully catch a river boat cruise.  We enjoyed a beautiful Parisian sunset by the Seine, definitely a trip highlight. 

Naturally when there are beverages involved, the need for a ‘toilette’ isn’t too far in the future.  This was our first experience with the whole Parisian bathroom scene.  Basically, there aren’t any.  Well, there are SOME but not many.  For a city that is home to millions & vacation spot to millions more, you would think there would be more bathroom action.  Not so much.  We moved from the cobblestone walk by the Seine back up to the road, looking for a bathroom.  No dice.  We crossed the street & went through the Porte de Lions into the massive Louvre courtyard area.   I asked a random guy “TOILETTE?”  and since I had a frantic look on my face he pointed and tossed some advice my way:  I could make it to the only bathroom in the courtyard…but it would close at 9:30.  I checked my watch, in an absolute panic at this point, and it was 9:27 pm.

I knew I could never make it by 9:30, and started to look around furtively for other options…I found ‘other options’ in the way of a large English hedge row; something of a labrynth type maze of bushes.  We ducked in a few rows, and Brian stood guard while I used what would prove to be the cleanest ‘toilette’ of our trip.   We noticed several men walking around in the hedge maze, and assumed they were also using the toilette.  We were wrong, but more on this later.

After the whole mad dash for the bathroom thing, we missed our chance to catch a riverboat cruise.  Instead, we decided to spend the rest of our night hanging out on the Louvre lawn, finishing our wine & enjoying the evening.  The sun did not set until around 10:30 pm each night, and the Louvre lawn was full of people–chatting, drinking, eating, and living.  I loved that experience, and we returned to the Louvre several times throughout the trip.

We returned to our room (a 5 minute walk from the Louvre) around 11 p.m…we intended to go straight to bed, but Carr’s Irish Pub was calling our name once again.  We popped in for a Carling or 6, and then back to our room by 1 a.m.  After all, we had to get some rest!  Day 3 was another biggie…