Paris like the bites on my arm

Firstly, yay, I was in Paris this weekend! Friday morning to Monday night. Not bad, eh? Yesyes, ohhgoodnessitwassomuchfunitooksomanypicturesididntwanttoleavewhatamitodo. But also, WHEW! Paris is tiring; and it’s not all because of fun and games.

Friday

Step off the train after 2 hours of neck-rolling napping and I smell butter. Delicious. But it’s only from the Gare de Lyon vendors. (Funny enough, the only train to Lyon go out of Gare de Lyon.) So of course, a 10am arrival means a trip to a bakery! And not just any one, but Poilane, recommended by both David Lebovitz and Dorie Greenspan.

Innocent-looking Poilane boulangerie

It’s kept its traditional method of baking sourdough for about a hundred years (I believe), and the bread is both tangy, cheap, and easy to keep fresh. A half kilo is 2-something euros, and lasts me the entire day.

I go over to the Musee d’Orsay, and walk around and explore for a bit. The most notable things in the museum are the grand horloge on the back wall, and the Salle des Fetes. I’m not too big on museums, but it was still good to go in and see everything.

The grand horloge of la Musee d’Orsay

I meet my friend and so starts the checklist for the weekend. First up, Notre Dame. It reminds me of our Cathedrale de St. Jean, actually. I say “our” as in “Lyon.” Inside, of course, is awe-some, but there were both a lot of tourists and a ceremony taking place. We watched a little bit but quickly left.

Another clock facing the city in Musee d’Orsay

The bulk of our time was spent in the Galeries Lafayette. It’s basically a giant Saks 5th or even higher-end Nordstrom. We gawk at all the expensive bags and perfumes, and wait in the lines to get into the Longchamp, Chanel, and Louis Vuitton stores. All over the mall, though, we just see one thing: ASIANS. We heard Korean in Longchamp, Japanese in Chanel, Mandarin in Prada, and everything in Louis Vuitton. All the stands and stores have asian-speaking salespeople. The Lancel store we went into were ready for English-, Mandarin-, Cantonese-, Italian-, Japanese-, and even ARABIC-speakers! Holy moly.

Breathtaking Salle des Fetes in the Musee d’Orsay

Of course everything in Paris, like Lyon, closes early, so by 21H00 (9pm) we’re on the subway back to our place.

It was really a weird little place, the housing my friend had booked for our nights in Paris. The directions there were like this: take the subway to the end of the line, take either of 3 buses two stops, walk 500m until you see the Volvo dealership, then call this number.  An older Chinese man who doesn’t speak English or French fetches us up.  Our “room” is really just a small living room filled with 3 bunk beds and an “office” (read: computer desk) separated by a sheet. The bathroom is tiny and while washing my hands in the sink, I counted 3 flies buzzing around. There are signs on the bathroom wall that say, “No showers after 11pm.” The man tells us before we head back out that when we take showers, we need to be careful not to let any water spill out, and not to worry about security, he only allows female students. The four of us were to sleep in the living room, but two on bunks and two on air mattresses on the ground. The other bunk beds had already been reserved.

The older man lay shirtless outside our room in the main hallway from the front door on another air mattress, watching an asian drama on his computer. I go to close the door, and he says to me, “What? You want to close the door? I’ve been operating this place for 10 years and nobody’s ever closed to door! Bah, whatever you want. Close it, close it.” The four of us start talking again. Only female students, but never closed the door, with him right outside shirtless? Really? Apparently he hears us, because when one of us comes back in and tries to close the door, he explodes, saying, “You two. Tomorrow, go live in another residence! No, all of you, go somewhere else! Tonight!”  …what?  “Even if you gave me money, I wouldn’t want you to stay here! Get your things! You guys are leaving!”

It’s already 10pm, and he leads us to a small hotel, which he enters and communicates to the French manager that we are to take a 3-person room for 70euros. Our new room is simply a room with a large bed and a single, a closet, and a washroom. Exhausted, we try to find another place, but then decide that it’s good enough and go to sleep.

Saturday

Jump for joy in Paris!

We have a packed day: Tour Eiffel, l’Arc de Triomphe, and Champs-Elysees.

First sight of the Eiffel Tower!

The Eiffel Tower is, well, humongous. You know it in theory, but to see it is different. From the bottom, to try and see the top is dizzying. other than that, if you’ve seen it in the photos, then you’ve seen it. Besides taking lots and lots of fun photos with it, it’s just kind of…there. At night it lights up every hour, like saying hi. But really, that’s about the extent of my enthusiasm for the Eiffel Tower. Although, it was in a brasserie by the Eiffel Tower that I got my first croque madame! Not all bad, I suppose.

Not so big now, eh?

Arc de Triomphe is fairly cool. You can get to the top and see all the streets leading out from it into Paris and beyond. If it weren’t so rainy, I imagine the view would have been breath-taking. As it was, I enjoyed taking in some of the nice crisp air. Win-win, I suppose. Inside, there was a really awesome display of the Arc de Triomphe explaining all the parts of the building. You could rotate a small model, and a larger one behind it would turn along with, and then behind that was a projection that explained whatever part you’d turned to. It was actually quite nice. I think it was one of the few monuments in Paris that I actually took the time to read about. The pamphlets and audioguides just really don’t do it for me. Yay interactive learning!

Looking out over La Seine river

After we found our way back out from the center ring of l’Arc de Triomphe, we explored around Champs-Elysees. It’s basically what you’d expect. A big street with the big names for the big checks. For the most part it was unremarkable. I’ve seen suited-up doormen and astonishingly high price tags. As we were walking though, we saw a big golden gate, with a long line outside in the rain waiting to get in. Of course we wanted to know what store it was, and heard “Albert”-something. Huh. I’ve never heard of any major brand by any Albert someone-or-another, and I’m not about to wait who-knows-how-long to get in to see. As we were leaving, I saw a small little rectangular sign at the bottom corner of the golden gate that read, “Abercrombie & Fitch”.  ……seriously? People are lining up all excited to get into ABERCROMBIE??  Not to quote the old man from the night before, but even if someone gave me the money, I wouldn’t shop there! Bah, at least the gate was nice. Confounded by this weird French taste for cheaply-made overpriced clothing, I walked blindly down the rest of Champs-Elysees
Sunday

I went to the Louvre on Sunday, but think more of the day as one of food, firstly, then of the museum.

Inverted Pyramid

We woke up early to go to the museum, and were in by 9am. I don’t really have much to say about it, except that I loved the ceilings. I’m pretty sure I took more photos of the ceilings than the actual museum exhibits. I mean, it does sort of make sense: I can see beautiful photos of these paintings and sculptures online, and I’ve seen it in person, so why take my own photos of them? The ceilings, on the other hand, are decorated just as elaborately as any painting, and generally aren’t photographed. Quel dommage. (What a shame.) And there’s never a large crowd around it, like the Mona Lisa or Winged Victory!

I saw all the major works, like Venus de Milo, and the Sphinx. But my favorite painting there was actually a temporary exhibition from Jean-Baptiste Huynh, called Portrait d’Une Femme Noire. Like so many other names, this one describes the photo exactly: a portrait of a black woman. But it’s absolutely riveting, I think.

my low-res sad photo of a great portrait

Basically though, once I got to the Italian section, I was already burnt out. Looking at paintings is truly not my thing. So at noon, as my friends were taking a break, I left the Louvre, to amuse myself until they were finished. What better thing to do, then, than to go off in search of food!

Another elaborately decorated ceiling

I went to find Pierre Herme, one of the things on my to-find-and-eat list. I found a small boutique right by Louvre, just next to L’Opera. I didn’t realize it before, but the shops are actually quite small, and not every one sells viennoisseries too. I got a box of macarons with unique flavors like Olive Oil and Mandarin, Milk Chocolate with Passionfruit, and Pistachio, Ceylan Cinnamon and Griottine. The box was adorably decorated with caricatures of major Parisian monuments (and Pierre Herme, of course)

My super-cute Pierre Herme macarons

When I met up with my friends again, we went to a small long-established cafe called Chez Angelina to get Montblanc cake. Montblanc cake is a shortbread base with whipped pastry cream on top, then covered in piped chestnut cream. At least,

I think that’s what it is, because that’s what I tasted.

We went to explore the Chinatown of Paris, the 13e district. Once you get off the subway, you see Chinese. EVERYWHERE. It’s pretty much like Vancouver, BC. Finally, my friends’ Chinese got us further than my French or English. Starving, we scrambled down the street looking at all the menus, trying to find a late lunch. But at 3 or 4 in the afternoon, all the restaurants were on their break before dinner service at 7. At the end of the street, we found a small buffet place that didn’t seem too expensive. All 6 of us stumbled in, begging the owner to let us eat before they went on break. He gave us 40 minutes. The most stuffing 40 minutes of eating EVER. It was a blur of grabbing plates and drinks and piling it with food and wolfing it down. “What is this?” “I don’t know, but I tried it and it’s good, so stop wasting time talking and eat it!” “Whose water is this? Oh well, I’m drinking it now!”  After all the French food from the past month, to have Chinese food was HEAVEN. The slow cooked soy-sauce beef, fried rice, sauteed eggplant, oh geez, I’m drooling. They even had a fair dessert spread, with an assortment of ice cream flavors and puddings. The standout dessert was a coconut rice flour dumpling (like mochi, though not quite as stretchy and soft) with a coconut filling. Sweet, but not overly so, deliciously coconutty (don’t know if that’s a word, but don’t care too much) and totally asian. Exactly what I needed.

Tummies full and in good company at Sacre-Coeur 🙂

After lunch, totally stuffed, we walked around a bit and went to find Sacre-Coeur. It’s such a cool hangout spot. Apparently people agreed with us, since the lawns were packed with picnic-ers.

After exploring around Sacre-Coeur an appropriate amount of time, we went off for some coffee (didn’t I tell you it was more food than anything else that day?) at Les Deux Moulins. This cafe is the one in which Amelie worked, in the French film “Amelie”. In the movie, there were some pretty strange people at the bar, and some -cough- shenanigans in the bathroom.

Mont-blanc in Les Deux Moulins

But anywho, we went to find it because my friend Zhang Yun is a big fan of the movie and chose Amelie for her French name (after her first choice, Vanilla, which she only gave up because the “n” and “ll” sounds were too difficult for people in China to pronounce). As far as a cafe goes, it was mediocre. Loud music, small spaces, grumpy workers and overpriced drinks. But Zhang Yun loved it, and I got a cup of coffee, so it all worked out well in the end.

Can you say you’ve ridden an ostrich??

A few friends went back to Lyon that night, and the four of us went back to the Eiffel Tower, to see it lit up at night. Some more pictures, yadayada. But then…we spotted the carousel across from the tower. Brightly lit and playing cheerful music, it exuded happiness. Besides, when was the last time you rode an ostrich?? I know I’m not the only one who looks longingly at all those childhood toys and playgrounds, either. Just…don’t play with children’s things alone. Because other people will stare. And it’s really just weird if you’re playing alone. With a couple of my friends though, it was minimally awkward and a really fun way to end the day!

Nighttime Eiffel Tower

Monday

I’m basically exhausted by this day. Getting up at 7am to go out into the city until 10pm is not exactly something I’m used to. Added on top of that practically all translating and navigating for the group and I feel like a tour guide. But on this last day, we took things chill. We woke up at 9, so that when we left, the hotel manager would actually be there so we could pay for our stay. It was actually really weird, staying there without having paid anything in advance, and leaving too early and coming back too late to see the manager. It would have been so easy to just walk out in the morning with our bags and never return. But we paid, and went on our way.

Pierre Herme store by Opera

I took everyone to another Pierre Herme shop, that sold pastries. They sold beautiful croissants, flaky and crisp and fresh. They also had a special Ispahan croissant, which had raspberry, litchi, and rose flavors. We all wished we’d bought one or two more to take along for later.

We really just did a lot of walking around on Monday, going towards La Sorbonne (which we couldn’t enter since we weren’t students), into the Pantheon (which was creepy, with all the tombs), and stopping by La Bastille (literally stopping by).

Inside La Centre Pompidou

We toured around la Centre Pompidou for an hours, until we realized that no matter what we looked at, we wouldn’t really “get” it. I supposed there isn’t that much to “get” about art in the first place. Just look at it and like it. But the thing about modern art is that it seems that you can never quite figure out how to make heads or tails of a piece. I’m certain they all take a horrendously long time and a sea of tears’ worth of effort, but I’m sorry, it just looks like a chair to me…

Ceci n’est pas une chaise

I was the last to leave Paris, and I decided to try soupe a l’oignon before my 8pm train. I went into a small restaurant by the Bastille, which advertised the best onion soup! (as told by customers). I was still in a rush, so as soon as I walked in I asked for the soup. Later when the server came back with water, I told him I would like to be served quickly.

Rainy-day, wintery French onion soup

Sure enough, he brought out my soup soon after, and then a plate of fries. Huh, I didn’t realize that onion soup also came with fries! But when I went to pay, he charged my 11 euros, when I’d seen the soup was only 7.90. Then I realized that the soup really didn’t come with fries. When I’d asked to be served “en vitesse,” so I’d catch the train, he’d heard “frites” and gotten me a plate of fries. So my small dinner ended up being quite filling.

The train ride back was uneventful, except the part where I almost got lost trying to get out of the subway stop and into the actual train station (they’re in the same place, but on different levels)

=========

Our lovely group! From top left: Pan Nan (Melody), Ying Ning (Iris), Wan Xin (Michelle), me, Meng Wan (Rachel), Zhang Yun (Amelie)

On the second night of being in Paris, I heard a buzzing while I was sleeping. I rolled over onto one ear and covered the other with my arm while waving and swatting at the offending noise. The next morning, my arm was covered in bug bites! On looking at my arm now, the bug bites remind me of this trip to Paris, in an odd way. We ended up visiting the Eiffel Tower three days in a row (first in the daytime, second at night, third just to mail postcards). We toured Paris in a chaotic, semi-random kind of way. All over the arm, but in no particular pattern. Is it weird that I’m comparing my bug bites to Parisian monuments? In any case, I am. I’m hoping that next time I go back, I can wander around the city and discover the smaller details that make the city charming. Connect the dots, if you will.

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