Friday, November 30, 2012

Le Honeymoon, Day 4

Day four of our honeymoon was our last full day in Paris. We had art on the docket, and so to the Louvre we walked. I didn't know this beforehand, but the Louvre actually began as a palace that was built in the twelfth century. It's been expanded a lot since then, obviously, and now it is the most visited museum in the world.

And, it feels that way. Walking around outside the museum, around the art, and in one of the museum's cafes is like a world tour; it's really obvious that people from _all_ over the world are visiting the museum.

A view of that famous triangle, and David pondering something really deep near it:

A view of one wing of the museum:

The glass triangle is actually where you enter the museum, and once inside, you buy tickets in the lobby beneath it.

Once we were inside and had purchased our tickets, I stood in line for twenty minutes to use the ladies room. Yah. Twenty minutes. That was nothing, however, to how long David had to wait for a snack at one of the museum cafes. He was still waiting when I got done in the bathroom.

We had two English Breakfast teas. I also had some apricot yogurt and David had some mediocre pizza. Back to that tea a moment, however. For some reason we kept getting really good English Breakfast tea. I mean, it was remarkable fruity and flavorful, but I've no idea why!

After our snack, we headed to some of the many wings of the museum. We didn't have really strong feelings about things that we needed to see, besides the obvious, i.e. the Mona Lisa. So, we wandered. We saw lots of European art from the Renaissance to the nineteenth century.

We saw the Venus de Milo:

Which was quite lovely in person. I hate to be that angsty Eating Disorder girl, but it was refreshing to see so many sculptures and paintings with fuller women. I mean, real women rather than 21st century model/anorexic women. It was a nice reminder that women's bodies, historically, are meant to be fuller, rounder, less angular and bony. (Or maybe I was just glad that I had an excuse for eating all those croissants and full-fat yogurts.)

Speaking of women, we also saw the Mona Lisa. Duh. The ML is, of course, a major draw, and even in the off-season of November the room housing the ML was quite full, with a large group of people crowded around it.

The crowd wasn't too surprising. What did surprise me was how small the painting is. I'm not sure if that comes across in the picture above, but take my word for it--it's pretty small, especially for all that fuss.

With that, I'll leave off the Louvre. It was a necessary stop on a trip to Paris, but to be honest, I don't really enjoy walking around and looking at artwork for hours and hours. Two hours, sure. But more than that and it all starts blending together for me, especially because all of the plaques next to the paintings were in French and they were out of the audio guides that would've given us English descriptions of the art.

Before leaving the museum, we did have our only negative interaction with a French person. It happened while we were riding an elevator to see the Mona Lisa. We were in the elevator with a family with a small child in a stroller, and naturally David and I started smiling at the kid and trying to make her smile with funny faces. Bad move, apparently, because the mom saw us, looked right at us, and actually rolled her eyes and scoffed. I am sympathetic to _some_ criticisms leveled at Americans by other countries, including France, but this really riled up my American pride. It was the quintessential French-American discord: silly Americans and haughty French, and I have to say it really irritated me.

As a result, I was forced to assuage my anger with pizza for dinner. Luckily we found a nice pizza place near our apartment. If the pizza hadn't been good, the decor might have made up for it:

We started with a beer and wine, as well as a green salad and some minestrone:

Even the random table bread they give you is ahhhhmazing! 

For dinner David ordered a cheese free veggie pizza. Boooooring!

I thought I ordered a caprese pizza. But what I got was a cheese pizza. 

Luckily, the cheese in France is sooooooo good. Like, unbelievably good. I really can't explain it other than to say that the cheese on this pizza, and on several other things I ate while there, tasted more like cheese than the cheese we have here. It's like someone took regular cheese and then made it taste more cheesy. OMG. Memories. Cheese memories.

A nice post-dinner walk to temper all that cheese:

And our time in Paris was over!

Up next: the trip to Annecy, France!

*Do you like going to art museums? (i.e. are you a Philistine like me or are you cultured?)

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Le Honeymoon, Day 3

On the morning of the third day of our honeymoon, we were still in Paris. I woke up relatively early and ducked out of the apartment to give David some alone time for extra sleep. To fill my time, I walked down to a local market to get some fruit and to peruse what's offered in a Parisian market. Prunes and prune juice, that's what. OK, maybe these weren't the only or the major things at the market, but it was a marked difference from the US, where prunes are pretty much nonexistent.

Aside from shopping for prunes, day three was a good one for me because it involved a cemetery. Yes, a cemetery. I happen to love cemeteries, especially when they contain writers, artists, and historical figures from the historical periods with which I'm enchanted. Last year when David and I visited England Highgate Cemetery was at the top of my list of things to see.

This year was no different, only we were visiting Père Lachaise Cemetery in the Southeastern part of Paris. PL Cemetery is the largest cemetery in the city of Paris, and it happens to hold the remains of Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, Chopin, and many more, including two famous nineteenth-century physiologists whose work I write on in my dissertation.

David does not understand my fascination with cemeteries and graves, but he indulges me and comes along like a good husband.

What I love about old cemeteries, especially those in Europe, is their grandeur. Père Lachaise is no exception, as the cemetery is perched on a slight hill, so that you approach it from below and it slowly rises into your view in all of its massiveness.

Like the cemeteries in the city of London, Paris's cemeteries were major urban projects that took planning (i.e. how many cemeteries for the whole city, how big should they be, in which districts should they be placed, etc., etc.), and I think this is part of the reason why they are such monuments still. Also, I should add, cemeteries used to be a much bigger deal simply because people used and visited them more often. Families bought entire plots of land for their family members, and thus visiting the cemetery was about visiting dead family members as well as a piece of property that was part of the family legacy.

You can see the significance that was associated with the cemetery and the graves in it just by looking at the grave stones and monuments put up by different families and people. Here are a few of my favorites:

This is positively terrifying, yes?

As you can imagine, many of these grave stones would've been quite expensive, making them only affordable for the very wealthy. In fact, when we were Highgate Cemetery in London last year, the cemetery keeper told us that some patrons would spend thousands of pounds on virtual compounds for their loved ones.

And finally, a shot of one of the pathways through the, love, love!!!

After the cemetery, we headed North towards Sacré-Coeur, which is probably most famous for being in the movie Amelie.

Before it was the site of Audrey Tautou's rise to global stardom, however, Sacré-Coeur was just a regular old church (albeit fancy and beautiful) in the Montmartre area of Paris. Montmartre is set on a hill at the highest point in Paris, so not only is the view of Sacré-Coeur pretty breathtaking, but so is the view from Sacré-Coeur.

I believe the phrase is "Oh la la!"

Whew! Trucking right along here! I know I said yesterday that today I'd be discussing our trip to the Louvre, but I think that might have to wait so I can share what we did after visiting Sacré-Coeur.

More sightseeing, of course! We had to visit Notre Dame, right??! We ended up seeing Notre Dame twice--once, the first time, at night, and another time during the day. I'd have to say that the night-time visit was a bit more special. There are low lights gleaming up at the gothic spires and the church just looks magical and a bit menacing!

Sorry for the poor lighting photos. This was a night-time service at Notre Dame, and though it meant that we couldn't wander about the church I was glad that it was going on during our visit. I actually almost cried, because the inside of Notre Dame smelled exactly like my childhood church. Is that weird, or what? Despite all the old memories, I didn't feel compelled to return to my Catholic roots by taking communion. I should've asked if in France communion wafers are made with butter though. That might've altered my decision. Sorry to blasphemy, y'all.

After Notre Dame we stopped by the famous Shakespeare and Co. bookstore, where James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, and Ezra Pound used to chill:

And then on to La Grenier de Notre Dame, which is a vegetarian restaurant just a block from the bookstore and the church. In case it isn't obvious, there are not a lot of vegetarian restaurants in Paris. In  Paris, they like foie gras, roasted chickens, duck, and beef. So we were glad to find La Grenier, and to find ourselves already so close to it.

We started with a lentil soup that was a bit runny but well flavored,

Followed by a tofu veg plate

And a seitan veg plate:

Both of our entrees were good. Not life-changing, but a really nice break from eating what felt like only bread, butter, or cheese.

So, of course, we had dessert. Actually, an older Belgian gentleman whom we'd struck up a conversation with during dinner told us we had to order dessert. Apparently he comes to Paris just to get books on hypnotherapy, and on every trip he makes time to go to La Grenier for dinner and dessert. We had the caramel crepe, which was, of course, really good. Even better? The caramel ice cream. I thought David was going to lick the plate for sure.

OK, so I'm going to leave off here and start with the Louvre tomorrow. I'm kind of enjoying looking back through all these photos and memories, but would someone please let me know if you all are getting tired of these long posts about Paris? I could definitely shorten these suckers down if no one is interested.

*How do you feel about cemeteries?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Le Honeymoon, Day 2

On day two of our honeymoon, I think I woke up around noon. In other words, jet lag, my friend, jet lag. I _never_ sleep that late, and it was a nice start to our second day in Paris.

For our second day, David and I did a few things, including Versailles, the Arc de Triomphe, and Ladurée.

First, Versailles. As I'm sure you all already know, Versailles has been the country home / seat of government for the French since the late seventeenth century. By that I mean that different kings used it for different things; some liked it just for hunting since it used to be a small country village with lots of open space. Other kings, however, actually used Versailles as the seat of the French government, so that many important meetings, treaties, and just official biz went down there.

First, however, a shot of the train platform when David and I got lost (because of his direction) on our way to Versailles.

Anyhow, unlike in the olden days, Versailles is no longer a rural village, but instead a suburb of Paris, just about twenty minutes outside the big city. I would say it's just a quick train ride, but for me and David (thanks David) that wasn't quite true, now was it?

Once we got to Versailles, however, we were immediately impressed. Versailles is actually it's own little city now, with the main attraction being the palace itself. Here is a picture as we walked up to the palace, to give you an idea of its size and grandeur:

A close-up on the gold gates:

And, once inside the gates, a look at the center of the courtyard area:

Versailles is obviously a major tourist attraction, and it is hard to forget this fact. That is, it's difficult to really imagine Marie Antoinette making up her toilette here since everywhere you look you are reminded that things have been reconstructed from the originals and a lot of work has been done on the palace since those times. But, it's still pretty magnificent,

Oh, just your average hallway in Versailles.

Ceiling artwork.

Entrance to the Hall of Mirrors, a main gallery of the palace built by King Louis XIV.

and, as you can see, a must-see on any Paris tour.

Once inside we headed straight for the rooms of the king and queen. I don't have any pictures of the kings suite, but below is a picture of the queen's suite, which included about three different rooms.

This was actually Marie Antoinette's room, and that little door to the left of that godawful flowery bed was the door that she used to attempt escape when Parisian rioters broke into the palace and ultimately forced the royal family to move to Paris where they could be watched more carefully.

Speaking of flowers, the gardens at Versailles are something to behold. But...not in November.

You get the idea though, right? While walking around the grounds I could actually imagine kings, queens, and other royal peeps taking their daily walks. I suspect that many a courtier was seduced on these secluded pathways...

After touring Versailles for a few hours, David and I were ready to get back to the city for some sights, and for some sweets. First stop? The Champs-Élysées and the Arc de Triomph.

The Champs-Élysées is, of course, the most famous of all Parisian boulevards, and it connects to the Arc de Triomphe on one side. I am not normally interested in architecture, but the history behind Paris's famously wide boulevards is actually quite interesting.

This is a crap picture of the Champs-Élysées, but as you can see, the boulevard is quite wide--wider than some highways! It really makes for a grand parade on the last day of the Tour de France, btw. Originally there weren't boulevards like this in Paris, and instead Paris was a medieval city of small streets and narrow roads. There are still lots of narrow streets in Paris, but in the nineteenth century, Georges-Eugène Hausmann undertook a radical revamping of the Paris cityscape, making streets wider and making building façades more uniform. The result is that there are now grand boulevards, large city squares in key locations, and many more buildings with façades like this:

The end result, for me, is a much more beautiful city to walk through. The building façades are truly beautiful, and such a change from the mish-mosh of architectural styles that we see in most US cities. It's like taking a step back in time, now that I think about it. The wide boulevards really highlight the beautifully-designed buildings and just generally add to the charm of the city landscape.

Ahem. Now that I'm done with my pretentious architecture talk, let's move on to the real reason that we were on the Champs-Élysées, which is gustatory.

My friend and reader Julia requested that we visit Ladurée, which happens to have a store on the Champs-Élysées.

So, we obliged, since Ladurée is a confectionary made famous by their macarons. Not macaroons, people, macarons, which are tiny and brightly colored cookies (sort of) made with meringue and filled with soft cremes, ganache, fruit spreads, and other deliciousness. I was skeptical about these macarons, most because they seemed to cute to be really decadent. But, people, I was wrong. These things are good. We waited for nearly twenty minutes to get them, and we paid an exorbitant amount for them (damn Euro!), but it was a necessary indulgence for an American foodie in Paris.

First of all, the store itself is a long counter full of treats, all of which invite you to indulge and give yourself a treat.

Poor lighting, but the only photo I have. Apparently Ladurée doesn't appreciate people photographing their "art."

Second of all, they drive home the indulgence factor by packaging your macarons in boxes and wrapping that could rival a birthday gift.

And finally, and most importantly, they are delicious!!!

They are soft, and pillowy, but with some chew. They are sweet, but flavored with nuance. My least favorite was the rose flavored macaron. WTF? I wouldn't eat a daffodil, why would I eat a daffodil-flavored cookie?!! Same goes for roses, lavender, and f-ing pansies.

But the caramel macaron. Oh, that little one, second from the right? That was pure heaven. Since consuming it I've done a little research and I'm pretty sure that was a salted butter caramel macaron. Yah, salted butter caramel, people. Enough said. But each of them was unique and so flavorful: the vanilla macaron tasted like pure vanilla; the raspberry creme tasted like it had real chunks of raspberry still in the creme. It was all good, people, and so good.

Up on tomorrow's post? The Louvre!

*Have you ever had a macaron? What did you think?