Ron and I had traveled to Rome and Florence during the first week of January in '04 and '05, but I switched things up and proposed traveling to France for January '06. Initially, Ron wasn't on board. Here were some of his objections:
- "We don't know French." I countered with: "We know English and Italian ... close enough."
- "What about the food? All they eat are snails and cream sauces." Counter: "And macarons, adorable little tartes, quiche, fancy grilled cheese, steak and frites, moules and frites, crepes ..."
- "How will we find a decent hotel?" Counter: "The INTERNET."
- "But what's there to see?" Counter: "Seriously?"
Much to Ron's chagrin, he found himself landing at Charles De Gaulle Airport on January 1, 2006 ... not Fiumicino in Rome.
On our first day, we quickly observed that Paris is ENORMOUS--Rome is so much smaller in comparison and Florence far tinier. (Hence, the panic with the bad foot: "Big sprawling city + painful foot + thousands of dollars already spent = OH NO!!") We never bothered with public transit in Italy, but Ron began to study the Metro maps intently by the end of the first day. Sore foot or not, it's insane NOT to use the Metro in Paris at times. I'm all for walking to learn and see a city, but if you have some semblance of a schedule you'll need the Metro to stick to it.
We ended up staying at a little place called the Hotel London on the Boulevard des Italiens (oddly enough) around the corner from the Opera. It worked out just fine, but the whole "bathtub with a hose arrangement" (as Ron fondly calls it) got really old by the end of the week ... of course, that's the EXACT same bathing arrangement I'm using right now. I guess this trip is on my mind in several different ways.
|I cannot express to you in words--English, French, or Italian--how much I HATE that stupid hat picture above the bed. Honestly, WHY BOTHER???|
It's such a lovely city with so many pretty neighborhoods. The Parisians don't skimp on anything (except showers, I guess) and everything--even the most utilitarian things--are always pretty. Case in point, that Metro map up there: Have you ever seen a Septa map that pretty? NO, you have NOT. And you never will.
This trip was actually my first occasion to use my digital SLR which I had just received for Christmas (and that I would later break on my honeymoon in San Francisco). I SWORE I would never give up film for digital, but the light meter on my 35mm SLR was definitely not working correctly. What better place to use brand-spanking-new light meter than Paris? It was so thrilling to take a shot, SEE IT, decide if I wanted to keep it, and know that the exposure would be correct when the camera said it would BE correct. So cool. And I didn't have to pack any film and carry an extra roll around in my purse! That felt weird: no more film.
I remember that we were surprised at how cold it felt. January in Italy is pretty mild--it's easily in the 50s everyday. But, Paris barely hit the mid-40s and the nights were much colder. I had brought a light scarf and leather gloves, but I eventually had to buy a hat and mittens because I hadn't packed correctly (a mistake that I would repeat in California. Twice. Why am I so bad at packing?).
A word about the desserts in this city: They're a-frickin-mazing. True works of art even at the most simple bakery.
I'd never had a real French macaron before, and the macaron craze hadn't made it to the States yet. I became completely obsessed with them, and it was typical for me to make a lunch or dinner out of a bakery trip rather than a real meal at a restaurant somewhere.
|The coffee, like in Italy, is amazing here.|
Very surprisingly, Ron and I were not adventurous with the cuisine here. Isn't that terrible? While it was a little challenging to read menus, I remember not feeling super-excited about the various options at most places. The options weren't limited--you could order anything from soup to beef to vegetables, but I wasn't accustomed with typical French preparations of ordinary foods. Looking back on it, this was simply due to a lack of education--I didn't know anything about cooking back then (in general) and I didn't understand the little details that distinguish one French dish from another. Plus, I wasn't really interested in wine, so I didn't attempt to get the fullest possible experience of a coherent meal in this world-class city. I'm still really surprised by this--who goes to Paris and comes home with little understanding of the food? Totally crazy. Hence, an over-reliance on desserts. That is one major mistake that I need to rectify one of these days.
|One of the many meccas in Western philosophy. None of my students even know what the Sorbonne is. I said to Ron, "ooo, take my picture RIGHT HERE!" and he was like, "Why? What is this?" * le sigh *|
Of course, we had to visit several churches while we were here. You can't go to Paris and skip Notre Dame ...
Taking pictures inside Notre Dame really blew me away--I couldn't get over what I could accomplish with my new camera. Granted, my film camera didn't let me down inside San Miniato in Florence, but it took a lot less work to get the same results with the digital camera. Well, maybe it took the same amount of work, BUT I didn't leave the church wondering if a single shot had turned out. I could take as many shots as I needed until I had one that was (nearly) not blurred--a luxury you can't enjoy with film.
|I'm pretty sure you could buy a new candle from the church and take it home with you--I can't believe I didn't get one.|
While Gothic architecture isn't my favorite style of architecture, it's totally amazing how it works AND that people in the 12th century could A) figure out how to design it and B) actually BUILD it. You know you're looking at a Gothic building (especially when you're distinguishing styles of churches) when the building has incredibly tall ceilings and pointed arches supporting them. Engineers figured out that they could build taller buildings if they A) manipulated the shape of the arches and windows underneath the ceilings (pointed rather than round) and B) used flying buttresses to support the taller structures from the exterior. In terms of aesthetic detail, the same buildings are usually adorned with ornate details and of course a gargoyle or two in some cases.
It's really cool, though, if you think about it: One of the major hallmarks of a Gothic church are the windows. The Rose window in Notre Dame is one of the most famous in the world--it's enormous. However if you stop to think about it, it seems unlikely that a wall made partially or nearly entirely of glass could hold up such a heavy roof or ceiling. That's why the buttresses are important: The stone ceiling and "glass" walls lean on them and their heavy weight finds support. Isn't that amazing? WHO figured that OUT??
(Ron is thinking, "An engineer. Duh. That's what we DO.")
(You know where I learned all that? Italian class. Not joking. Grazie, Professore Pastore. I had to give a presentation on Gothic architecture in one of my Italian Civilization courses. Jeopardy question: What's the most well-known Gothic building in Italy? The Duomo in Milan. Gothic architecture in general, however, is not very common in Italy.)
It took nearly two hundred years to build Notre Dame--two hundred years that did not include electricity, power tools, cars/trucks/construction vehicles, etc.
|See the buttresses? They're the arms holding up the back of the church.|
Like the Italians, the French have elaborate nativity scenes in their churches. Also like the Italians, the French envision the little town of Bethlehem having a distinctly European flare.
(Other things I had to "think" about in Paris: Standing in the middle of Place de la Bastille, I'm saying to Ron, "I don't get it ... where's the Bastille? It should be right here, shouldn't it?" Ron was like, "Are you REALLY being serious right now?" Oh yeah, they destroyed it a long time ago.)
Of course, you can't skip Sacre Coeur either--this is pretty far from the center of town, so we definitely used the Metro to get here. I remember it was in a pretty cute part of town--maybe it was sorta touristy? Not sure anymore.
|This is nowhere near Sacre Coeur ... I'm pretty sure it's in the tony left bank neighborhood at the base of the Eiffel Tower.|
I only have one picture that really summarizes the shopping in Paris:
|Omigod. I was twenty-two (and, as established in the bunion post, clearly NOT thinking about kids AT ALL) but I was obsessed with this store window. I think that was because I wanted to be the girl with the pink coat, brown sweater tights, Mary Janes, and cute dog ... not because I wanted to give birth to one.|
Doesn't that really sum it up? If kids are dressing like this, imagine what their moms look like. I do have to say, Parisian women are CHIC. It's true--not just a rumor. It's not even because they're walking around "all fancy" all the time. All of their clothes are so beautifully tailored--everything fits like a glove. And all of their shoes are beautiful--everyone's shoes look like they're being worn for the first time.
I didn't shop at all when I was there because my yearly salary barely broke $10k at the time ... maybe some things never change? * le sigh * Anyway, if the French version of TJMaxx exists in Paris, I didn't see it while I was there. I did do a lot of window shopping and it was incredibly inspiring. What's really hilarious? All of the trends in the high-end store windows looked fresh to the point of "almost sorta weirdness"--one calendar year later, all of those fashions showed up State-side and everyone had them in their closets. (If you bought leggings and a trapeze top in 2007, this includes you.) Our fashions are seriously a year behind the French.
So maybe I should stop there. I'll save the rest for another post--the night shots I took are my favorites from this trip. Nothing is prettier than Paris at night ... not even Rome.
(Don't tell Rome I said that.)