Monday, August 24, 2015

Visiting the 18th

It’s hard to pick just one thing that I loved most about my time in Paris. There are the little things that most Parisians probably take for granted—the long, meandering meals or the friendly greetings whenever you enter a shop; and there are the bigger things like the dozens of masterpiece-laden museums and historical landmarks. Now that I’m back in New York, I can’t help but wish for some of things in my day-to-day life. I’ve even taken to buying baguettes but, for whatever reason, they just aren’t the same as the ones I stuffed into my handbag while I was doing my tourist thing.

If there wasn’t one thing that I loved most, there was certainly an arrondissement that captured my heart. Montmartre, an arrondissement atop a hill by the same name, gave me a glimpse at the Paris I had expected to see on my visit. Quiet, sleepy streets with a boulangerie on one side of the street and a fromagerie on the other. You had the impression that everyone who lived there knew each other. There were no designer stores, no chain stores, just honest-to-goodness “mom and pop” shops, as we call them here.

Mom and I headed to Montmartre first thing in the morning on our last day in Paris. We—meaning I—had planned for us to climb the steps to the top but thought differently when we were standing at the bottom. Instead, we took the funicular which cost under 2 euros and saved us both a lot of panting.

Our first stop was Sacré-Cœur, the white-domed church that you can see from all over Paris. Maybe it’s because of the domes and the stonework, but the basilica felt exotic-looking to me in the midst of all the gothic architecture around Paris. It’s a gorgeous church though—and new in comparison to Notre Dame. It also didn’t feel touristy while we were there, much more like a parish church that is still used for weekly services. You weren’t allowed to take pictures inside and there were no souvenir shops by the entrance (that I saw anyway). I kind of liked that about it though. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it to the top of the dome that day because it wasn’t open, but we did get some stunning views from the steps outside.

We took the morning to live as flâneurs, just strolling down the narrow, somewhat serpentine streets. I had a few things that I wanted to see—the two remaining moulins (windmills), Carre Roland Dorgeles (a little vineyard), and Place des Abbesses—but we were able to just take the sights in without watching the clock. I felt like I’d been transported to a different time. I felt somewhat out of place walking around with my iPhone and DSLR. The arrondissement is beautiful though with its ivy covered buildings and classic architecture. It’s no wonder so many of the great artists had studios or worked in and around the area. We had a delicious breakfast at a street café, hoping to prolong the experience just a little bit longer, and then I had a field day going from the boulangerie for a baguette to the fromagerie for cheese and then the charcuterie just out of curiosity (I don’t eat red meat or pork). And they were all on the same street, right next to each other! I have to say, I’m a fan of shopping for groceries that way instead of by going to a supermarket that sells everything. The quality just can’t be beat.

Of course, we couldn’t go to Montmartre without seeing the famed Moulin Rouge. You can still go and see shows there but, I have to say that the Moulin Rouge, in reality, doesn’t quite live up to its glitzy reputation. It was definitely a must-see, but I wasn’t blown away by it. Plus, the area surrounding it is much more touristy than the other areas in Montmartre that we visited. You know, plenty of those inexpensive souvenir shops, with mini-Eiffel Towers and things, spilling out onto the street.

I fell in love with Montmartre and, if I should ever be fortunate enough to live in Paris, I could see myself living quite comfortably up there. What I wouldn’t give to live in the studio that once belonged to Monet, Van Gogh, or Picasso! It’s the Paris I always envisioned.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Phantom of the Opera

If you are a Phantom of the Opera fan, then odds are you will start humming the Andrew Lloyd Webber songs as you approach Opera Garnier, like Mom. We had the treat of being able to go on a tour of this world famous opera house, and it was one of our favorite excursions during our time in Paris. If you do want to tour Opera Garnier on your next trip to Paris, then I suggest you buy the tickets ahead of schedule like we did. The English language tour was already sold out by lunchtime.

Unsurprisingly, there is a lot of history to Opera Garnier, and just as much legend. The chandelier that fell and inspired the novel that Webber based his musical on? It never actually fell, but a counterweight did, killing a female theatre-goer. The underground lake that the Phantom boats across a la the River Styx? Non-existent, although there is a small reservoir beneath the opera house. Sorry to burst your bubble.

I have to say that I felt more than a bit underdressed as I walked around. Apparently, going to the theatre was never about watching the performance. For the wealthy Parisians, it was about wearing their best jewels and finest gowns and being seen. And you did get a glimpse at the sort of elaborate “costumes” that the theatre-goers wore which rivaled those of the performers. The opera house’s opulence was probably only rivaled by that of Versailles. Everything is intricately carved and painted, and everything is so vibrant and colorful. I mean, even the seats in the auditorium are this plush, crimson velvet.

Opera Garnier is a temple for music and, even if you aren’t a fan of operas or the ballet, it’s worth seeing. And if you’re a Phantom of the Opera fan, then you will get a real kick out of walking up the grand staircase like you’re in the musical number “Masquerade.” You know what I’m talking about, don’t you?

Monday, August 17, 2015

First Impressions

It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly 2 weeks since I bid France adieu. The trip seemed to take forever to get here and then was over in the blink of an eye. It’s taken time to come down from the vacation-high and get back into the swing of the 9-5 workday grind, probably because I’m so reluctant to leave France behind. When can I go back? Tomorrow? I’m just going to go repack my suitcase. I wish.

Luckily, I have close to 1500 photos from my trip and a head full of memories to last me a lifetime. There was so much to take in—the tastes, the smells, the sights, and the sounds. It was amazing to share those memories with my mother too. If you think about it, it hasn’t been just Mom and me since my sister was born twenty-one years ago. But it was really just the two of us from the moment we woke up until the moment we closed our eyes for 10 days. We got along well too except for a few bickering matches when we were lost, hungry, or exhausted.

Anyway, now that I am somewhat recovered I’ll be pulling together some travel related posts. And, you guessed it, this is the first.

Baguettes. Crepes. Cheese. Berets. Wine. The Eiffel Tower. Flâneurs. Poodles. They’re all clichés, but that’s how I envisioned Paris. Granted, there are a lot of baguettes, crepes, and wine, and you can’t miss the Eiffel Tower—La Dame de Fer has the habit of poking her head out when you least expect her—but that isn’t what Paris is about, not by a long shot.

The first thing I noticed about Paris is that everything is bigger—grander—than what you ever imagined. You know that the Eiffel Tower is tall, but you don’t feel its grandeur until you’re standing at the base or taking the two elevators to the top. What’s crazy is that the tower was supposed to be taken down after six months. Why would anyone have ever wanted to do that? The Arc de Triomphe is also this vast structure with a 287 step climb to the top, but it isn't until you're standing under the vault and looking up thinking “Wow!” that you can truly appreciate how massively impressive it is. And Notre Dame? Well, it’s impressive from far away, up close, from the inside, from the outside, from the top of a 387 step climb, and from its base. Every inch of it is intricately carved. It was one of those places where, even for someone who isn’t incredibly religious, I felt like I was in the presence of something much greater than myself. It was awe-inspiring.

There is something to say about a culture where stopping to smell the roses, so to speak, is a way of life. Living in New York, everyone always seems to be in a rush—to get to work, school, home, the store. Parisians walk at a leisurely pace (except during rush hour) and will just sit on the edge of the Seine or on the lawn of some park watching the world pass them by. Meals are events that last several hours and are meant to be enjoyed over pleasant conversation and a glass of wine. Life is to be savored, and I think that's something Americans need to learn.

Every inch of Paris is worthy of a photograph or a painting. Arguably, the only unsightly thing in Paris is Tour Montparnasse which I think smacks of the Tower of Mordor. The rest of Paris has this classic, elegant feel and striking facades. I loved that the city hasn’t been overrun by skyscrapers and glass facades. It’s quintessentially old world.

Have you ever been to Paris? What were your first impressions?

Monday, August 10, 2015

Post-Vacation Ennui

Have any of you ever experienced post-vacation ennui?

For me, the symptoms start on the way to the airport. As I watch the city that I’ve called home for the last week or so pass me by in the window, my heart gets a bit heavy. I see landmarks I visited, the streets I walked down, the restaurants I dined in, and I wonder when/if I will ever visit them again. I think I will, but I know that it won’t be for a while yet. There are dozens of countries and cities that I want to visit first—places and cultures that I have yet to experience.

By the time I get home? Part of me is daydreaming about what it would be like to just pick up and leave again, you know, if I had the funds. It’s always hard to accept that the trip I’ve been daydreaming about for nearly a year is in my rearview mirror. I want to start planning my next trip, but it just seems too far away to be a fact yet. So, I’m forced to accept my sedentary, 9 to 5 lifestyle again.

After being on the go for ten days straight—always at breakneck speed so I can fit everything in—I’m exhausted and jetlagged. All I want to do is curl up in my pajamas, in bed, watching Netflix and having Netflix watch me when I take an impromptu nap. I’ve been watching NCIS, in case you are wondering. But I always feel that the more exhausted I am when I get home is the more successful the trip was. Considering my current level of laziness and unproductivity, I think that France 2015 was a huge success!

So what happens now? Once I find the energy, I hope to go through my 1300 photos and blog about my adventure in more detail. All I did this weekend was watch TV and sleep. Oh, and ice my ankle after I had a run in with a pothole in Manhattan on Friday (it won). I also want to give the blog a little face-lift to celebrate six months of being in existence.

This will be my only post this week though as I cannonball into the real world after my little escape. So please bear with me!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Au Revoir, France

How did my 10 days in France go by so quickly?

We’re on our way home today (sadly), and I’ll probably spend the next day or so recovering from jetlag and the getting my life back in order. Can I stress how much I don’t want to come down from this holiday high? I really don’t want to. At all.

But I guess it’s time to start thinking about my next trip, right?