France: Paris

Paris was never on our list for this trip because, well, we had to leave somewhere nice to vacation in the future…when we are older and have more money, right?!  But as seems to happen more often than not, we found a way to turn lemons into lemonade.  Our plan was to do a few of the Greek Isles since we ended our Turkey experience at a port that could connect us to the main ferry hub in Athens.  Had we actually planned ahead, we would have known the ferries run intermittently in the fall due to strong winds and large waves.  We ended up frustrated and stranded as our ferry was canceled and postponed indefinitely.  So we hunkered down in an ant-filled hotel room (with free internet) in a cute little seaside town in Turkey called Cesme to make plans.  I still had hopes of a Mediterranean cruise, but we also wanted to get to India by mid-November, and none of the dates or prices seemed to work for the cruises we had looked at in the past.  Plus, many of the routes skipped the Greek Islands…our desired destination.  We called the one person who always looks at things with a new perspective, Joshua’s mother, Laney.  She told us to think outside of the box, so we did.  We scrapped the Athens plan.  We postponed the India deadline.  What did we end up with?  A 12-day cruise leaving November 8th from Venice and ending up in Rome after port stops in Dubrovnik, Corfu, Katakolon, Athens, Mykonos, Kusadasi, Santorini and Naples.  Since it left on November 8th, we had a week to burn.  Joshua gave me two options: Paris, France (he just finished reading A Tale of Two Cities) or St. Petersburg, Russia (he also just finished War and Peace).  Let’s see…Russia in November or a cheap (and short) flight to the City of Love.  With the cruise in my back pocket, I was willing to let Joshua have something he wanted.  And then he told me “Happy Birthday” (which he does about once a week)…I guess we were both pleased with the decision!

I have been to Paris twice before.  Once when I was 8, my family hosted an exchange student named Hugo from Versailles.  He arrived polite, proper and clean cut wearing Lacoste and slacks.  He left with suitcases full of CDs, Levis and Doc Marten boots…complete with a beard, long hair and a tan from a summer working at the water slides.  His parents “thanked” us by treating my family like royalty when we visited (I specifically remember the fresh chocolate croissants).  I also did a short stint in Paris during my college backpacking tour of Europe.

Joshua had never been to Paris and has always romanticized about it.  It’s even made it on his 5 year plan…where we save up and move to Europe to learn languages.  I was so excited to not only show him a great time in Paris but also to experience it the first time with my fiancé.  Thankfully, I have awesome friends who shared all the best tips and tricks from past trips including mylittleparis and a fantastic food blog we used as a bible.  The stars were aligned.  And to top it off, we would be there for free museum day, the first Sunday of every month.

If only it was that easy!  First, it was a lot harder than it sounds to rent an affordable apartment in Paris for a week the day before arriving.  Second, we pictured ourselves drinking wine on the sidewalk of a cute little bistro, but all the charming restaurants in prime people watching locations required reservations or were PACKED.  Oh yeah, and then everyone outside smoked the whole time…which was fine, but we have too few clothes to let them all smell like cigarettes.  Finally, there’s the problem that to do Paris right, you can’t be on a backpacker-esque budget…or even close.

Juggling my desire to make sure everything was perfect for Joshua and my indecisiveness around food (which led to hangry sessions), we did not start in the best emotional place.  It didn’t help that the first day we explored 100% by foot ending in a 15 mile day (per Google maps – Joshua checked).  Luckily, our apartment was so amazing that Joshua was able to pop my blisters in the comfort of down bedding.

I know it all sounds pretty dramatic.  It was, really!  We even spent time arguing about kids names…my favorite easily becomes “Really Grose” when we added his last name.  I’ve come to the conclusion that any name added to the last name Grose is bound to get made fun of as a child.  I would say we hit a low!  I mean, we’ve had some travel frustrations along the way, usually surrounding inadequate transportation or working within unrealistic time frames; but this was the first time I missed home.  The holidays are approaching.  I want a puppy.  I want to get married.

Once Joshua took me to the local Patisserie, Julhes, and the adjacent Fromagerie, all of these feelings subsided.  It’s hard not to be in heaven when you have a plate full of cheeses, chocolate croissants, raspberry preserves in front of you and half a fresh baguette in your hand.

I wasn’t about to repeat the half marathon from the day earlier, so Joshua bought us metro passes – probably the most efficient metro ever.  We even opted for the Paris Museum Pass once we realized that the free museum day was actually a horrible time to go due to the long lines (but VIP entrance for pass holders!).  We literally saw everything…we even did a Paris sewer tour.  I’m not really sure how we made it through given the smell emitted by the indiscernible muck and Joshua’s sensitivity to odors, but we did.

We went to one truly French restaurant that offered all the staples: an apertife of kir, foie gras, cheese plate, French onion soup, crème brulee and steak frites.  After that, we relieved the pressure of finding the perfect restaurant by not looking for it all.  Korean food sounds good and the restaurant’s packed?  Sold.  Vietnamese?  Hey they colonized there…Sold.  Crepes on the street?  Sold.  The only consistency in our diet was chocolate croissants, baguettes, cheese, wine and chocolate (so many amazing chocolatiers in Paris!  Heaven!).

Just because the frustrations were quelled didn’t mean we slowed down one bit.  The only thing we skipped was the catacombs.  We visited the Arc de Triomphe (at day and night), Champs Elysses, Musee D’Orsay (my favorite), the Orangerie (the BEST place for Monet), the Louvre (yes, the Mona Lisa was the first painting to perfectly demonstrate all aspects of Renaissance art – according to the art director, but really?), the Bastille market, Notre Dame, Pere LaChaise Cemetary, Pantheon, Moulin Rouge, Hotel DeVille, Luxembourg Gardens, Saint Chapelle (amazing stained glass windows), Sacre Coeur and even Versailles  before placing our “love lock” on the Pont des Arts Bridge. After seeing these sites, it’s easy to see why they’re so famous, but our most memorable experience had to be at the top of the Eiffel Tower.

As we started to descend to the 2nd floor of the Eiffel Tower, we heard music coming from the University across the Seine.  At first we thought it was some sort of rally, but then the crowd started going crazy and dancing in unison.  We immediately recognized the song…Gangnam Style which we only just heard for the first time while eating at a little café in Turkey a few days before leaving to Paris.  Then the artist started talking…it was a live performance by PSY!  We had to have had the best seat in the house.  Definitely something we’ll be able to brag to our kids one day.

Thanks to social media, we were able to connect with Hugo and his family.  They were just as great as I remembered.  We spent an evening eating delectable treats and drinking champagne with Hugo’s parents, Alain and Mita, his son Maxime and his girlfriend.  It was just one night, but such a special and unexpected treat.  We have got to get the recipe for Mita’s Mauritius Murder by Chocolate cake.

 

As we left Hugo’s apartment that night he looked at us like we were crazy to take the metro so late.  Until now, we have seen little crime in any of the places we’ve traveled…other than a few violent rallies.  But that evening, Joshua sprinted after a purse snatcher who took a women’s purse and cell phone while we were all waiting for the train.  He saved the evening!  Who knew Paris would be the most dangerous city we’ve traveled to?!

Loaded with chocolates and French wine, we may have to wear all our clothes on our Ryan Air flight to Venice (no extra weight allowed), but it will be worth it to have no worries about what to eat or where we are going to sleep for the next 12 days!

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