Category: france

Paris, day four: tropic of cancer

tropic

Thursday, December 27th 2012:

“It is now the fall of my second year in Paris. I was sent here for a reason I have not yet been able to fathom. I have no money, no resources, no hope. I am the happiest man alive.” – Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer

The last full day in Paris means breakfast in bed.  Our same waitress from the previous two mornings knocked on our door while I was still in the shower.  A tray stacked with croissants and much-needed coffee placed on the edge of the bed.  A grey morning outside.  I wanted to see the catacombs.  We walked down to Montparnasse but the line was already far too long, the weather not looking great.  I was really dissapointed, but I knew we would have another chance later in the day.  Time to move on.

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“Paris is like a whore. From a distance she seems ravishing, you can’t wait until you have her in your arms. And five minutes later you feel empty, disgusted with yourself. You feel tricked.”Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer

We walked back up to Saint-Germain.  Marissa wanted to buy some macarons from Laduree.  We chose six flavors and took them out into the street.  We planned on eating them on a bench down by the Seine, but the first daylight rain of the trip started trickling down.  We made it into a cafe near Notre Dame just before it got bad, ordered some coffee and waited it out.  I can’t remember the name of the cafe, wasn’t worth remembering.  Just a place to get out of the rain for twenty minutes.

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“I made up my mind that I would hold onto nothing, that I would expect nothing.”Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer

We were just about to go back to the hotel to wait for the weather clear up but I knew we were pretty close to a lunch spot I wanted to try.  I got us lost for a minute right before the rain really started coming down, turn to the right, L’Avant Comptoir.  My favorite meal of the trip.  It’s basically the waiting area for the much more formal Le Comptoir next door.  You jockey your way up to the bar, order a sandwich, some French tapas, a glass of wine.  1965 Bob Dylan playing loud on the stereo.  Ham and cheese on the most perfect bread, spicy mustard.  So simple.  I wish I had found this place earlier in the trip, I would’ve eaten there every day.

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“I’ve lived out my melancholy youth. I don’t give a fuck anymore what’s behind me, or what’s ahead of me. I’m healthy. Incurably healthy. No sorrows, no regrets. No past, no future. The present is enough for me. Day by day. Today!” – Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer

We headed back in the direction of our hotel.  Stopped into Gibert Joseph, a huge sort of Parisian Borders.  About six floors of books, records, toys, ephemera, and writing supplies.  We spent an hour looking over every shelf.  Marissa bought presents to send back home for Christmas, then asked if there was anything I wanted.  I picked out a French mass-market paperback edition of Tropic of Cancer, one of my favorite books.  I first read it in 1999 or 2000.  I was about 17 years old, about to graduate high school.  It made me want to be an artist.  It made me want to get lost overseas and travel.  It probably made me think about Paris for the first time.  Okay, let’s get back into it…

We continued back towards the hotel, shopping bags in hand.  The sun was finally coming out from the behind the clouds as we passed Jardin du Luxembourg.  We decided to walk through again, a perfect time to sit on a bench and break open those macarons.  We hated them.  Took a bite of each flavor and shoved them back in the bag.  Back to the hotel to dry off, change socks.

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“Twilight hour.  Indian blue, water of glass, trees glistening and liquescent.” – Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer

It was around 3:00PM.  I wanted to give the catacombs another shot.  With my newfound expertise of the Paris Metro I figured we could get there in less than 10 minutes.  We got off at our stop and could not figure out how to exit the station, completely frustrating at the time, hilarious when I think back on it.  We finally got in line just in time for them to shut it down, too late.  Oh well, next time.  We hopped back on the train and headed to the West Bank to do some window shopping.  Walked through an area west of the Lourve, all extremely high end shops, nothing I could afford.  Went in Bookmarc where I saw a copy of my friend RJ‘s latest book laying on a shelf.

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“The sun is setting.  I feel this river flowing through me -its past; its ancient soil, the changing climate.  The hills gently girdle it about: its course is fixed.” – Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer

The Metro back to Le Marais.  We were starving at this point.  We walked into a couple second-hand shops, an Israel-themed store specializing in exotic condiments.  After passing it twice we went in to La Perla, a Mexican bar.  Classic French food would maybe have made more sense for a last night in Paris, but this turned out to be one of my favorite places we went, perfect for this night.  Really good margaritas, dark red lights.  Chips, salsa, guacamole, another round of margaritas.

Stumbling through the streets back to the hotel.  Sat and watched the ice skaters outside the Hôtel de Ville for a while.  One last cup of vin chaud from a Christmas stand, some over-cooked churros we barely touched.  And that’s it.  Tommorow is Barcelona.

Paris, day three: sous les pavés, la plage

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Wednesday, December 26th 2012:

Okay, day 3.  Again we took the elevator down to the basement for breakfast.  By this time Marissa had already perfected her impression of our waitress, “BOOOONJOOOOUR!”  The three cups of coffee I drank helped in no way at all.  We went right back up to the room for a nap.  Jet lag, it’s no joke.

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Out of bed again, this time dressed and ready for the day.  Walk to the end of the street to the Metro.  The plan for the day was to check out Montmartre.  The 10 from Cluny-La Sorbonne, change to the 12 at Sevres-Babylone, exit at Saint-Georges.  If you’re going to Paris for the first time download the Paris Metro iPhone app, super helpful.  This stop let us out right around Pigalle, next to Moulin Rouge, just down the hill from Montmartre.  Marissa is a big fan of the film Amelie, so I picked this stop so she could see the cafe where it was filmed, Cafe des Deux Moulins.  We didn’t eat there, just took a few photos and wandered up the hill.

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I wanted to find Sacré-Cœur Basilica.  I wasn’t concerned how.  We would just get lost, look in some shops, and eventually it would appear.  Walking up the hill to Montmartre is really beautiful.  Little cobble-stoned streets filled with bakeries, sweet shops, design stores, tiny cafes.  We found ourselves in the main square, local painters everywhere, tourists filling in all the empty space.  Next was another Christmas market, my favorite of the trip.  We bought some frites and a Coca-Cola Light and ate them overlooking the most amazing view of Paris.

sacre coeur paris

At the end of the market was Sacré-Cœur.  A church I knew nothing about.  Pictures don’t really do it justice.  We went inside and took a look, photos not allowed.  Just out front we encountered an incredible amount of con-artists, tourist vultures, the most I saw on this trip.  More than a few times I saw foreigners being pulled aside, only a minute later getting pulled back by some local strolling by.  Definitely check out this part of Paris if you’re planning a trip, but be prepared to ignore just about everyone that approaches you.  We dodged our way through over-acting gypsies and stopped in a little cafe to have a drink, to use their free wi-fi, Cafe Choppe.

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The Metro back to Le Marais.  I think we got off at Hotel de Ville, I can’t remember.  One of Marissa’s friends told us we needed to eat at L’As du Fallefel.  It did not disappoint.  Probably ruined falafel for me from here on out.  We placed our order and waited in line for about 30 minutes, cars passing through the narrow street, scraping winter coats.  We ate it standing up in the alley, taking turns holding them, snapping photos.  We then spent about an hour shopping around the area.  Le Marais is pretty amazing, maybe the Williamsburg Brooklyn to Paris’ Left Bank.  Cool stores, cool bars, cool restaurants.

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The Metro again.  This time to the Louvre.  I heard Wednesday night was the best time to go, not too crowded.  We took some photos in front of I.M. Pei’s brilliant glass pyramid.  I know it was super controversial when it was built in 1989, but it holds up, worth the trip alone.  We waited in line for all of 15 minutes and rode the escalator down into the museum.  We spent about 2 hours looking around.  I know that’s not enough time to even see a small portion of the collection, but we were tired and it was enough for the first trip.  I’ll be back again, map in hand, ready to spend some serious time there.  We saw the Mona Lisa, bigger than I thought.  People always say it’s so small, I think I was expecting something postcard sized.  I liked taking photos of the people taking photos of it.  We went to the gift shop and I bought an English guide to the museum.  Books are really the best souvenirs.

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We took the train back to our stop near La Sorbonne.  The clouds were moving in fast so we decided to go back to the hotel for a nap, to wait out the rain.  Sleepy early in a Parisian hotel in the December rain.  We woke up and wanted to grab dinner somewhere nearby, Le Comptoir du Pantheon, just a block from our hotel.  More steak frites and wine.  I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to eat there, but it served it’s purpose on this night.  Warm, the Eiffel Tower sparkling through foggy Christmas light filled windows.  Let’s go to sleep.

Paris, day two: down on darkened meetings on the Champs-Élysées

Champs-Élysées

Tuesday, December 25th 2012:

Eleven hours of sleep.  We woke up and took the elevator down to the basement for petit dejeuner, continental breakfast for the layman.  A breakfast we ate every morning because I thought it was included with the room due to some miscommunication.  Not that big of a deal.  Croissants, bread, butter, orange juice, coffee.  The non-plan was to walk up to the Seine and find Le Marais.  A couple of friends recommended that area and I was excited to check it out.  Okay, so, remember:  It was Christmas day.  Just about everything was closed.

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I should have touched on this point in my last post, that with photos of Marissa in her bright pink tights.  People in Paris dress mainly in a brilliant array of shades ranging from dark grey to dark black.  My kind of city.  On one of the bridges over the Seine an American woman approached us as I unfurled one of my many maps, asking if we needed some direction.  She pointed us towards to Le Marais, just a couple blocks away.  We walked by the Pompidou, closed.  A beautiful ice skating rink we’d visit again a few days later.  Now was time to make some plans, I bought tickets for the lift on the Eiffel Tower a month ago, time to find it.  Walking was a bad idea.  It wasn’t close.

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Paris is a relatively easy city to get around.  The Seine cuts the main part of the city in half, so as long as you know where it is you can situate yourself.  I knew we had to walk north.  About an hour later we were close to our goal, tired and hungry.  We stopped in a little tourist trap cafe, Brasserie de la Tour Eiffel.  It ended up being pretty decent, anything at this point would have been perfect.  Steak frites and wine, a crepe for Marissa.

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We finally got to the Eiffel Tower and spent about an hour walking around and taking photos of each other.  It’s a beautiful structure, much larger than I imagined.  The wind was really kicking up so the lift to the top was closed.  I wasn’t too disappointed.  It was enough to see it, I don’t feel the need to get near it again.  After an overly long morning, it was time to grab a taxi and head back to the hotel.  Still jet-lagged.  Time for a nap.

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When I was planning this trip, doing my research, the forums I read seemed to agree that you definitely need a reservation for dinner on Christmas day in Paris.  I planned on making one, but then decided against it.  I got on our hotel’s wi-fi and found La Cloiserie des Lilas.  Just about a ten minute walk to Montparnasse, famously frequented by Hemingway and Henry Miller.  Marissa had some beautiful poached fish, I had some scary looking fish in tube-form.  It was a perfect Christmas dinner.  Walking back to the hotel in the cold, stone statues in the park vandalized with parking cones and clown noses for the holidays.

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Back to the hotel, buzzed from a couple glasses of wine, buzzed from the excitement of being in this amazing city on Christmas night.  I told Marissa to put her jacket back on, we were going to do some exploring.  We walked down to the end of the street for our first trip on the Paris Metro.  I bought a pack of ten tickets from the kiosk and fell in love with riding the trains there.  The 10 from Cluny-La Sorbonne, change to the 12 at Sevres-Babylone, get off at Concorde.  We walked out of the station and immediately saw the Roue de Paris, the towering Ferris wheel overlooking the Champs-Élysées.  I bought a cup of vin chaud for €3 and we got in line.  I’m terrified of Ferris wheels, but it was a really cool experience.  We sat in our little gondola with two over-excited 20-somethings from Mexico City.  I recommend it.  Especially at night.  Especially after cheap, hot wine.

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After that we walked across the street to check out the Champs-Élysées.  There was a pretty elaborate Christmas market set up on the far end of the street opposite the Arc de Triomphe.  We bought some candy from a stall and walked the entire street.  I’m glad we decided to see the street this way, late at night.  It’s sort of the Times Square of Paris and I had no interest in seeing it during the day.  It was beautiful.  John Cale songs running through my mind, feeling the luckiest.

Paris, day one: vivre sans temps mort

paris flight

Sunday, December 23rd 2012 & Monday, December 24th 2012:

Sunday was a long day.  When I have a flight in the evening I still find myself setting an alarm the night before, waking up early, pacing around my suitcase, making sure I packed enough socks.  Marissa and I flew out of Miami International Airport around 6:00 PM on an Air France Boeing 777.  I love big planes.  Eight hours of flight and six hours of time travel later we found ourselves in Paris on Christmas Eve morning.  Paris for the first time.

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We arrived at Charles de Gaulle Airport early in the morning.  Exhausted from only getting about an hour of sleep on the plane.  I was excited to get outside, to breathe some fresh air, but first there was passport control to deal with.  We waited in line for well over an hour in a room with seemingly no air conditioning before we could collect our bags and find the taxi line.  Finally outside.  A taxi to Hotel des Grands Hommes, right next to the Pantheon.  I was surprised at the amount of graffiti along the highway into the city, mostly semi-elaborate tags.  The hotel was perfect.  On a quiet street, Christmas trees out front, an impossibly tiny elevator.  Previously the home of the surrealist writer and poet Andre Breton.  Rococo wallpaper and furniture covering every inch of our room with barely enough space for the queen-size bed.  The servants quarters at Versailles.  Everything you’d want from a Parisian hotel room.  Open the door, throw my suitcase down, check out the bathroom, bury myself under the blankets.  Post-flight nap time.

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Woke up jet-lagged and hungry.  We put on our jackets and headed into the Decemeber cold.  We wandered around the Latin Quarter, staring at cafes, puzzling over French menus under glass, none of my college French classes helping at all.  We finally decided to just go to McDonald’s.  I know that seems like a strange choice for our first meal in Paris, but we had planned on going to one in every country we visit, and it was right there.  Don’t judge me.  It was good.  After this we did some getting lost, things get sort of hazy from here on.  Walked through the Jardin du Luxembourg (right across the street), found ourselves in the Christmas market in Saint-Germain, down the Seine to Notre Dame.  Took some photos of the locks on Lover’s Bridge.  Thousands of padlocks that couples write their names on, attach to the bridge, and then throw the key into the Seine.

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This day was mostly just wandering around, trying to get a sense of where we were.  We walked around Shakespeare and Company, then sat down and grabbed a beer in a cafe next door, Le Petit Pont.  Back to the hotel for another nap.  Walked around and ate some weird pizza on a touristy street near Notre Dame, drank some cheap French wine.  Checking our watches, it was Christmas Eve and we were planning on midnight mass at Notre Dame.

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I’m in no way religious, but midnight mass at Notre Dame seemed like too cool of an experience to pass up.  They were celebrating their 850th anniversary, try to wrap your mind around that amount of time.  I read on some Lonely Planet forums that you need to arrive really early if you want to get a seat.  We got in line around 10:00 PM and were inside just about 10 minutes later.  The earlier mass was already in progress so we walked around to the front and watched the remainder of it.  Afterwards, pushing our way through the crowd, we found two great seats right in the center of the church.  After waiting patiently for about an hour we both started nodding off.  We saw it, we were there, it counts.  Back to the hotel for an epic amount of sleeping.  The pace set for an exhausting, whirlwind crash course in Europe.

Paris & Barcelona: a sort of disclaimer

So I just got back from 10 days in Paris and Barcelona for Christmas and New Year’s.  I originally planned to write about my trips to Peru and Mexico first, but those will have to wait.  I want to get this trip down while it’s still fresh in my mind.  I’ll have the first post up tomorrow, but for now here’s a little disclaimer I typed into my iPhone a few weeks before this last trip began:

Okay, so I assume most of you reading this have been to Paris.  It seems to be one of the first places Americans travel to abroad, a jumping off point.  Well I’m going for the first time and I’m going to be seeing just about everything on the tourist trail.  I know most travelers scoff at anything touristy, but these are things that need to be seen.  If you moved to NYC after college and haven’t been to the Empire State Building or Coney Island, you’re doing it wrong.  The side streets, the dive bars, the small cafes with no signs, they’re all great but you’re still not seeing the whole picture.  You’re isolating yourself.  So my first trip to Europe.  I’m going to the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, The Louvre.  I’ll be in Paris again one day and maybe then I’ll scoff and complain about tourists, making sure to only do things off the beaten path.  But first things first.  Let’s see the big sights with cameras slung around our necks, fanny packs full of maps, travel guides in our hands.  Right now my mind is full of Henry Miller, Hemingway, Gainsbourg, Gaudi, and Guy Debord.  teenage dreams, everything is romantic.

After Paris is Barcelona.  Yeah, expect a photo of me smiling in front of La Sagrada Familia.