09 July 2010

France - Rick Steves Style

Paris - if only the Metro had escalators...

After a relatively painless flight, Mark and I arrived in Paris and met up with his parents at the airport. I was so thrilled to be back in Paris - the sights and smells were just like I remembered them to be. Perfection. And my French wasn't as rusty as I thought it might be. And the Paris metro system lacked escalators of any kind, a fact I sort of forgot. I also forgot how man
y stairs the Paris Metro system has. They don't have stairs just for getting into and out of a station. They also have stairs just for getting around inside of all of the stations - it's like a
labyrinth. In short, NOT the best place to be lugging around a giant bike box. The entrance and exit turnstiles added an extra element of fun to an already joyless process. By the time we made it to the hotel, I looked and felt like I had already done an Ironman. Sweaty, tired, and cranky. And just like Ironman, turns out all I needed was some good food to put me in a better mood. Fortunately, good food in Paris is just as abundant as stairs in the metro system. First meal - a savory crepe with lots of cheese. My in-laws
both got crepes too and from the looks on their faces, it was love at first sight.

Crepes in front of Notre Dame

Eiffel Tower 11pm

L'Arc de Triomphe

We all wanted to adjust to the time change as quickly as possible, so there was lots of coffee, sightseeing and NO napping on that first day. We did Notre Dame, Place de la Concorde, Champs-Elysee, the Arc de Triomphe, and wandered around the Latin Quarter. Thanks to the summer equinox (or is it solstice?), it was light out until about 10:30pm, so we really didn't have any trouble at all staying up late. 10pm really felt more like 5pm. It was rather strange - and even though I love extended daylight hours, this might be a bit too extreme for me. But it's better than the mere 8 hours of sunlight Paris gets in the winter. Sun up after 8am, and back down around 4pm. Anyway, we finished off our night with a quick jaunt over to the Eiffel Tower to see it all lit up.

Mark and I are pretty laid-back tourists. We'll sleep in, decide on whim what sites we want to visit, if any, and we do most of it at a leisurely pace. Neither of us are big museum people (case-in-point: we've lived in DC for 6 years and only visited 3 museums total) and what we were most looking forward to was slurping down coffee and tea in a sidewalk cafe and people watching. My mother-in-law, on the other hand (and keep in mind, I love her and think she is great), does tourism a little differently. She reads up on things beforehand, plans out a schedule of what to see, when to see it, and in what order, and she will get up as early as necessary to get it done. For this trip, she bought some Rick Steves guidebooks on France and Italy. And right from Day 1, it was obvious that my mom-in-law was a loyal Rick Steve's disciple. Rick Steves, apparently, has a nugget of wisdom for practically everything. It was borderline comical and I tried not to giggle every time I heard his name. By Day 3, Mark wanted to throw Rick Steves into the Seine. My father-in-law admitted pangs of jealously for all the attention my mom-in-law was lavishing on Rick Steves. And my sisters-in-law are tagging Rick Steves in all Facebook photos of my mother-in-law. But I'll admit it, Rick Steves did know his stuff, especially when it came to restaurants. So in the end we compromised; because I didn't want to overdo it before Ironman, I didn't do all of the sightseeing, I slept in, and I went to bed early while everyone else stayed out.

I was really tired on our second day in Paris - the jet lag had finally caught up to me. I still got up and did my run, I just got up a little later than planned. And it was COLD in Paris those first few days. I was really regretting not packing my jacket - but it was so hot in Virginia when we left, it was hard to imagine it being cold anywhere. I wore the heck out of my only two pairs of long pants and my lone sweatshirt - felt like a scruffy American tourist the whole time. I couldn't wait to get to Nice where it would (hopefully) be warmer and I could wear some sundresses without feeling like a popsicle. The second day in Paris was museum day - we did the Musee d'Orsay and the Louvre. While at the Louvre, I realized that the statue I had always thought was the Venus de Milo, actually wasn't. Shows how much I know about art.

NOT the Venus de Milo

The actual Venus de Milo

Personally, I found the non-Venus de Milo to be more impressive than the actual one, but that's just me. Next on our list of stops was Sainte Chapelle. The stained glass windows were amazing. They were in the middle of a glass restoration project where they were essentially cleaning the stained glass with Q-tips. Obviously not the fastest method, but arguably the most effective. The difference between the restored glass and the non-restored glass was incredible.

Sainte Chapelle

After warming up in a sidewalk cafe with tea and coffee, with a side dose of people-watching, we finished off the day with what turned out to be our favorite meal in Paris. We planned on going to a falafel place in the Marais for dinner, but a very nice Parisien recommended this organic restaurant in the same area. Of course right now the restaurant name eludes me, but the food was INCREDIBLE. It was all relatively local and fresh. I got the roasted vegetable dish, thinking that it was a safe dish (it was) but it would probably be boring (totally wasn't). I savored every bite of it, and proceeded to think about that dinner for the rest of the trip (until our next great meal in Nice, and then my tomato discovery in Italy...). The walk back to the hotel after dinner gave us a chance to see the city all lit up.

The weather was feeling generous (or maybe just pity for us) on our third day in Paris - we actually saw the sun, there was no rain, and I wasn't freezing cold. We had another amazing meal in the Marais - this time at a really popular falafel place. And, like always, the messiest food is often the best food. Fortunately, I managed not to spill any sauce on myself as I devoured it. Since Mark and I were already in the Marais, we decided to visit the Jewish History museum. It's this little museum hidden away among the side streets and it wasn't crowded at all - I can't say how nice it was to visit a museum where you're not competing with fifty other camera-wielding tourists to look at an exhibit. And this is the first museum I've visited where the focus of Jewish history was not sharply zoomed in on the Holocaust - it talked about it, yes, but it also had exhibits on many of the customs, traditions, and Jewish history worldwide.

Rather than go out to dinner that night, we decided to get a few fresh baguettes, some salami and cheese, and have a picnic in the courtyard of our hotel. Right around this time the Fete de la Music was getting started and a band had set up just across the street from the hotel, so we had a little music to go along with dinner (granted, all the band seemed to know how to play was "Back in the USSR" - and play it badly - but hey, it was something). We made a sunset trip to the Eiffel Tower - the Metro was packed with people going out to celebrate the Fete de la Musique and the streets were filled with partygoers and an excited energy. There were bands on the streetcorners, live music drifting out of sidewalk cafes, people playing music on their balconies - it was everywhere! There are only two occasions I've seen the French let themselves get a little out of control - the release of the Beaujolais Nouveau in November, and the Fete de la Musique in June. And when we arrived at the Eiffel Tower, there was a live broadcast of the Spain vs. whoever on the Jumbotron. Of all the nights that we had in Paris, this was the one where I was really wishing I didn't have a race coming up in a few days. I would've loved to stay out late, watch the World Cup games, and soak up the music in the streets. But I had to go to bed, especially because we were getting up early to go to Normandy the next morning. So I took some photos of the Eiffel Tower and headed back to the hotel.

Eiffel Tower and World Cup

My father-in-law is tall, but the Eiffel Tower is taller

6 visits to Paris, first jumping photo in front of the Eiffel Tower

The trip to Paris was a success! We packed alot into three days, ate our way through the city, and really enjoyed ourselves. Next was a day trip to Normandy to visit the D-Day beaches.